The Philippines accused China of occupying areas claimed by the two countries in the South Seas. The Philippine Navy said it discovered illegally constructed structures in a reef area recently visited by hundreds of Chinese ships.
Filipino Defense Minister Delfin Lorenzana on Sunday accused the Chinese “maritime militias” of “openly violating the sovereignty of the Philippines” and said this is not the first time Beijing has done so. The Manila Declaration comes a day after the Chinese embassy named Pentecost as a “traditional fishing area” in China and part of the Nansha Islands.
About two weeks ago, the Philippines spotted more than 200 Chinese ships in the area and requested their withdrawal. The Whitsun Striff is one of the many areas in the South China Sea claimed by Beijing and Manila.
China’s territorial claims in this sea collide with the exclusive economic zones of several of its neighbors and have become one of the most stressful factors in Asia. Countries like the Philippines or Vietnam accuse Beijing of ignoring the principles of international law and of constantly violating its maritime borders, both through aggressive fishing and intimidation of foreign fishermen as well as through the construction of artificial islands and other structures.
Beijing is defending its position with ancient maps and historical reports claiming to prove its sovereignty over the region.
Last week, the Philippine Navy said it found man-made structures in the same spot where Chinese ships had previously been concentrated. “These constructions and other economic or other activities have a detrimental effect on the peace, order and security of our territorial waters,” said Philippine Lieutenant General Cirilito Sobejana, quoted by CNN.
In 2016, an international tribunal under the auspices of the United Nations upheld the Philippines in a case of territorial sovereignty in the South China Sea. However, Beijing has refused to comply with the ruling and has continued its activities on the ground.
Recent statements by Filipino officials suggest that Manila is tackling Chinese incursions into its waters. President Rodrigo Duterte has tried to get closer to China and largely ignored the international court’s decision. More recently, Manila has also tried to build good relationships with Beijing to ensure supplies of vaccines against Covid-19.
The South China Sea is a crucial region for global maritime traffic – it is estimated that more than a third of the annual sea trade is through the sea – and is now seen as one of the main stages in the strategic rivalry between the US and China.
Washington has several allies in the region and has been a major critic of the Chinese claims. U.S. Navy crossings in the South Seas, viewed as provocations in Beijing, are widespread.