The Philippines said on Sunday that a “swarm” of more than 135 Chinese boats was deployed around a reef that it claims, deeming this massive presence “alarming”.
The Chinese boats are “scattered” around Whitsun Reef, which the Philippines calls Julian Felipe Reef, about 320 kilometers west of Palawan Island, according to the Philippine Coast Guard.
This boomerang-shaped reef is located more than 1000 km from China’s first notable land mass, Hainan Island. It is part of the Spratly archipelago, claimed by China, the Philippines and several other countries bordering the South China Sea.
The Philippine coast guard, which had already spotted 111 vessels of what it calls the “Chinese maritime militia” in the area on November 13, counted “more than 135” when it deployed two patrol vessels on Saturday, said -they indicated.
“There was no response to the radio calls made by the Philippine Coast Guard” to the Chinese vessels, they added.
Images released by the coast guard show ships lined up in formation, while others are scattered in the waters.
Contacted by AFP, the Chinese embassy in Manila did not immediately respond.
A precedent in 2021
As of 2021, some 210 Chinese ships had been stationed near Whitsun Reef for several weeks, according to the Philippine government.
Beijing had claimed they were fishing boats sheltering from bad weather, but Manila rejected this explanation, saying there had been no storms during the relevant period.
Beijing claims almost the entire South China Sea, including waters and islands near its neighbors’ coasts, and has ignored an international court’s ruling in 2016 that the claim has no legal basis.
China regularly deploys ships to patrol disputed waters and has built militarized artificial islands to strengthen its position.
The Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam also claim several reefs and islets in this sea, which are believed to hold rich oil reserves.
On Friday, the Philippines announced the establishment of a coast guard station on the largest island it controls in the South China Sea, to strengthen surveillance of Chinese ships.
This post will be equipped with “advanced systems”, including radars, satellite communications, coastal cameras and maritime traffic management systems, said national security adviser Eduardo Ano, during a visit to the Thitu Island.
Construction is already complete, and the station is expected to be operational early next year.