The Philippines’ Presidency Rodrigo Duterte has warned that the presence of Chinese vessels at a disputed reef off the Philippines could ignite hostilities intensifying a diplomatic spat over the ships that Manila described as maritime militia.
More than 200 Chinese boats were first spotted on March 7 at Whitsun reef, approximately 320 kilometres west of Palawan Island within the Philippines’s exclusive economic zone.
Most of them have since scattered across the Islands but last week dozens of the Chinese-flagged vessels were still anchored at the boomerang-shaped reef.
For weeks Manila has called on Beijing to withdraw the vessels, saying their incursion into the Philippines’ EEZ is illegal as defined by the International Court of Arbitration at The Hague.
However, China which claims almost the entirety of the resource-rich sea has refused, insisting they are fishing boats sheltering from bad weather and are allowed to be there.