China accused of ‘harassment’ after dozens of its ships surround disputed island
The Philippines has accused China of “harassment” after a Chinese naval ship and dozens of other vessels surrounded a contested island in the South China Sea.
The coast guard on Saturday said 42 ships, believed to be part of China’s maritime militia, had been seen close to Thitu Island, also known as Pagasa, which is Philippine-administered territory in the widely contested Spratly archipelago.
A diplomatic dispute between Manila and Beijing over claims to the resource-rich South China Sea has intensified in recent weeks since the Philippines struck a deal with the US to allow its troops more access to local military bases.
On Monday, Commodore Jay Tarriela, a coast guard spokesman for the West Philippine Sea, said the vessels were still in the area, adding “this is a form of harassment”.
The Philippine authorities also released a rare video of a Chinese coast guard vessel sailing four nautical miles from Pagasa, accusing it of “loitering” within the island’s waters.
LOOK: A China Coast Guard vessel spotted last March 4 within the surrounding waters of Pag-asa Island with a distance of 4 nautical miles, or inside the island’s 12 nautical mile territorial sea. | via @jacquemanabat
📸 @coastguardph pic.twitter.com/FitaojzEI8
— ABS-CBN News (@ABSCBNNews) March 5, 2023
The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei lie at the heart of a growing standoff in the South China Sea, where China is militarising islands and reefs to bolster its vast territorial claims and the US Navy is carrying out patrols to promote freedom of movement.
To expand its claims, China has deployed its navy, coastguard and its so-called maritime militia - dubbed China’s “Little Blue Men”.
Last week, Ferdinand Marcos Jr, the Philippine president, told the military its mission had changed to protect the Southeast Asian nation’s territorial boundaries.
Mr Marcos did not specifically mention China in a speech to troops based in central Cebu province, but his message was delivered just two weeks after summoning the Chinese envoy to protest the use of a military-grade laser by the Chinese coastguard against a Philippine patrol vessel.
“I’m saying that your mission in the AFP has changed,” Mr Marcos told the troops, referring to the Armed Forces of the Philippines. “For many, many years, we were able to maintain that peace and maintain that understanding with all of our neighbours. Now things have begun to change and we must adjust accordingly.”