Philippines cries foul after hundreds of Chinese ships swarm Pag-asa

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Pag-asa
The Philippine-controlled Pag-asa Island, also known as Thitu. Picture courtesy of the Asian Maritime transparency Initiate.

The Philippines has filed a diplomatic protest with Beijing over after hundreds of vessels swarmed Pag-asa island in the South China Sea.

As many as 275 Chinese ships and boats have recently been spotted around the island that is also known as Thitu, said Jason Ramon, of the Philippine military’s western command.

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Armed forces spokesman Edgard Arevalo said it was difficult to determine how many ships were around the island at any given time, as Chinese vessels “come and go”.

Speaking today (Tuesday, April 2), presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said Manila had several questions for Beijing about the presence of so many vessels.

“We will ask them first why. First, if they acknowledge such fact as determined by us. Number two, ask them why they are doing it. Number three, we will politely ask them not to … not to do what they are doing.”

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China’s ambassador to the Philippines, Zhao Jianhua, said Beijing was trying to verify how many vessels were around the island. They might be “unarmed” fishing vessels, he said.

Pag-asa is part of the disputed Spratlys chain, which includes Chinese-controlled atolls and reefs that Beijing has built up and allegedly militarised in recent years.

Pag-asa is also claimed by Taiwan and Vietnam. It currently home to a civilian population of more than 100 Filipinos, as well as some military personnel.

The island is about 310 miles off the coast of Palawan, which is currently hosting the annual Balikatan joint military exercises with American, Australian and Philippine militaries over the next two weeks.

President Duterte has taken a cautious approach to defending Philippine sovereignty claims in the South China Sea.

Under President Benigno Aquino, Manila won a landmark case against China at an international tribunal, which ruled that many of Beijing’s territorial claims were unlawful.

However, the current administration has largely set this Hague ruling aside in favour of closer economic ties with Beijing.

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