US backs Philippines in stand-off over South China Sea reef

On Monday, a surveillance aircraft spotted 183 Chinese vessels still at the reef, said Philippine military chief Lieutenant General Cirilito Sobejana, who released aerial pictures of the Chinese vessels in one of the most hotly contested regions in the strategic waterway. The Philippines has filed a diplomatic protest over the Chinese presence, Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jnr said.

China insisted it owns the reef, which it calls Niue Jiao, and said the Chinese vessels converged in the area to avoid rough waters. Beijing denied the vessels were maritime militias. “Any speculation in such helps nothing but causes unnecessary irritation,” the Chinese embassy said in a statement on Monday. “It is hoped that the situation could be handled in an objective and rational manner.”

The US embassy, however, said “Chinese boats have been mooring in this area for many months in ever increasing numbers, regardless of the weather.”

The Philippine’s and China’s overlapping claims in the South China Sea/West Philippine Sea. Image: SCMP

The Philippine’s and China’s overlapping claims in the South China Sea/West Philippine Sea. Image: SCMP

China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei have been locked in a tense territorial stand-off over the resource-rich and busy waterway for decades. President

would talk to the Chinese ambassador in Manila about the issue, his spokesman, Harry Roque told a news conference.

Duterte has nurtured friendly ties with Beijing since taking office in 2016 and has been criticised for not immediately demanding Chinese compliance with an international arbitration ruling that invalidated Beijing’s historic claims to virtually the entire sea. China has refused to recognise the 2016 ruling and continues to defy it. Duterte has sought infrastructure funds, trade and investments from China, which has also donated and pledged to deliver more Covid-19 vaccines as the Philippines faces an alarming spike in coronavirus infections.


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