Nearly four dozen Chinese warships were spotted near the Philippines’ Pag-asa Island in the province of Palawan over the weekend, worsening tensions in the disputed region of the West Philippine Sea.
The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) reported the sighting, writing that one belongs to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy, one belongs to the China Coast Guard (CCG) and 42 other ships allegedly posed as fishing vessels but were actually part of the Chinese Maritime Militia (CMM).
The PLA Navy and CCG ships were spotted at a distance of 8 nautical miles and 4 nautical miles from Pag-asa, respectively. Meanwhile, the suspected militia ships were found within 4 nautical miles.
Those areas are well within the 12-nautical mile range designated by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) as part of a nation’s territorial waters.
Pag-asa, a natural island, has been occupied by the Philippines since 1971 and has an estimated population of 400, including 70 children.
The PCG said in a statement:
Based on the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the 2016 South China Sea Arbitral Award, the observed location of the Chinese vessels fall squarely within Pag-asa Island’s 12 NM territorial sea. Their continuing unauthorized presence is clearly inconsistent with the right of innocent passage and a blatant violation of the Philippines’ territorial integrity.
Last month, a CCG ship targeted a PCG counterpart with what the latter described as a “military-grade” laser that temporarily blinded crew members.
The incident resulted in Manila’s 203rd diplomatic protest against Beijing.
The PCG vowed to “unceasingly carry out its patriotic duty” in conducting patrols.
“Our gallant men and women of the Philippine Coast Guard will continuously patrol our waters full of courage and determination,” PCG Admiral Artemio M. Abu said.