Chinese ships in West PH Sea 'prejudicial to peace, security of region'

The National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) has slammed the continuous swarming of Chinese ships in the West Philippine Sea despite fair weather, calling it "prejudicial" to regional peace and security.

In a statement on Tuesday, April 13, the NTF-WPS noted that over a month after hundreds of Chinese vessels were first spotted near Julian Felipe (Whitsun) Reef, there are even more Chinese ships in the West Philippine Sea – navy warships, coast guard vessels, and ships manned by Chinese maritime militia (CMM) personnel,

“The combined presence of PLAN warships, CCG,  and CMM in the municipality of Kalayaan and the Philippine EEZ is prejudicial to the peace and security of the region," the task force said.

"The continuous swarming of Chinese vessels poses a threat to the safety of navigation, safety of life at sea, and impedes the exclusive right of Filipinos to benefit from the marine wealth in the EEZ,” it added.

In its latest maritime patrol, the NTF-WPS monitored the presence of People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) vessels, China Coast Guard (CCG) ships, and Chinese maritime militia vessels.

The task force spotted the following Chinese navy and coast guard vessels:

  • 2 Houbei class missile warships at Panganiban (Mischief) Reef
  • 1 Corvette class warship at Kagitingan (Fiery) Reef
  • 1 PLAN tugboat at Zamora (Subi) Reef 
  • 2 PLAN, 3 CCG at Bajo de Masinloc (Scarborough Shoal)
  • 2 CCG vessels in the territorial sea of Pag-asa Island

NTF-WPS also reported the following number of Chinese maritime militia vessels:

  • 136 at Burgos (Gaven) Reef
  • 9 at Julian Felipe Reef
  • 65 at Chigua (McKennan) Reef
  • 6 at Panganiban Reef
  • 3 at Zamora Reef
  • 4 at the Pag-asa (Thitu) Islands,
  • 1 at Likas (West York) Island
  • 5 at Kota (Loaita) Island
  • 11 at Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal
  • 10 at Bajo de Masinloc

All in all, there are 261 Chinese ships in Philippine waters as of April 11 – even higher than the March 29 tally of NTF-WPS when 258 Chinese ships were spotted inside the exclusive economic zone.

This is also a far cry from the figure of only 28 Chinese ships supposedly in Philippine waters, according to the statement of Armed Forces chief General Cirilito Sobejana on April 11.

Prelude to more Chinese activities?

In an interview with Rappler, Singapore-based naval expert Collin Koh Swee Lean said the presence of the Chinese navy in the West Philippine Sea means one can anticipate more active Chinese activities in the area. 

“This only means the Chinese are starting to normalize the active involvement of the navy in such joint maritime sovereignty and rights protection approach," Lean said.

"If we’re looking at permanent or rotational deployment of PLA Navy assets such as the Houbei in those artificial island outposts, we can expect to see more of such instances in the future,” he added.

Illegal fishing

Meanwhile, along with the imminent threat of another island occupation, the Chinese militia vessels were also involved in illegal fishing, according to the task force. The NTF-WPS estimated that the 240 Chinese maritime militia vessels in Pagkakaisa (Union) Banks and Pag-asa Island illegally obtained 240,000 kilos of fish every day in the area.

China’s illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing (IUUF) is considered by the Food and Agriculture Organization as a threat to “livelihoods, exacerbates poverty, and augments food insecurity.”

The Philippines' maritime patrols also reported that the CMM vessels were collecting giant clams in the Pag-asa Islands, in violation of the Philippine fisheries and wildlife laws and the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

Scientists have warned that the fishing industry might collapse if China continues its aggressive illegal fishing in the South China Sea.

The task force also expressed "serious alarm" over the harassment of journalist Chiara Zambrano and her crew by Chinese ships in waters near Ayungin Shoal. 

On April 8, Chinese ships armed with missiles chased a Filipino television crew in the West Philippine Sea. The media team rode a motor boat to check the latest movements of China in the disputed waterway. – Rappler.com