Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte said during his meeting with China’s ambassador Huang Xilian that Manila will protect its territory at every cost.
The development comes amid growing international concern over the increasing number of Chinese vessels in the disputed South China Sea region.
For almost a week, the Philippines and China have been locked in conflict over the presence of around 183 Chinese vessels in Whitsun Reef in the disputed Spratly region of the South China Sea.
Manila has already lodged a diplomatic protest over the “swarming and threatening presence” of the vessels manned by what it is termed as China’s maritime militia.
“The president repeated what he said in the United Nations [that] we will protect our territory… we believe that this issue should be resolved under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea and we stand by our victory in the international tribunal,” said Duterte`s spokesman, Harry Roque told Nikkei Asia.
My sources say the prominent presence of Chinese vessels in and around Union Banks has been observed for many years and it is not unusual for them to be mooring in the hundreds here especially during Feb-May. So why now? Testing the Biden administration's reaction? #SouthChinaSea pic.twitter.com/qK6QCVwzUo
— Nga Pham (@ngaphambbc) March 24, 2021
China claims the entire 3.6 million sq km of the South China Sea as its territory. However, in 2016, an international arbitration ruling had invalidated most of Beijing’s expansionist claims in the region.
Roque was referring to the same ruling, which Beijing has refused to recognize.
“In the spirit of friendship, we expect them (Chinese ships) to leave,” said Roque.
According to the Chinese embassy in Manila, the vessels seen at Whitsun Reef were fishing boats taking refuge from rough seas.
US Embassy on Chinese ships at Juan Felipe Reef (Whitsun): Chinese boats have been mooring in this area for many months in ever increasing numbers, regardless of the weather. We stand with the Philippines, our oldest treaty ally in Asia | @laratyan
— CNN Philippines (@cnnphilippines) March 23, 2021
Manila has been at the receiving end of China’s expansionist plans in the South China Sea region and has even expressed concerns over Beijing’s new Coast Guard law, which allows the Chinese agency to open fire at foreign vessels at the slightest suspicion.
Amid all this, one nation that could help the Philippines counter the Chinese aggression is India given New Delhi’s long territorial dispute with Beijing. The two neighbors had been locked in a military standoff at their Himalayan border for almost 10 months before their armies disengaged last month.
New Delhi had reportedly agreed to provide Manila with its indigenously built BrahMos cruise missile, which is considered the world’s fastest supersonic missile.