International concern has grown in recent days over what the Philippines has described as a “swarming and threatening presence” of more than 200 Chinese vessels believed to be manned by armed militia, moored at the Whitsun Reef that is located within our country’s 200-mile exclusive economic zone.
Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has asked about 200 Chinese vessels he described as militia boats to immediately leave Whitsun Reef, a shallow coral region about 175 nautical miles west of Bataraza town in Palawan. China ignored the call, insisting it owns the offshore territory and that the vessels were sheltering from rough seas.
The Philippine military has ordered more navy ships to be deployed for “sovereignty patrols” in the disputed waters.
The United States has backed the Philippines in this new feud with Beijing, accusing China of using “maritime militia to intimidate, provoke, and threaten other nations, which undermines peace and security in the region.”
The Philippines has filed a diplomatic protest but China insisted it owns the reef, and said the Chinese vessels converged in the area to avoid rough waters. The US, however, said “Chinese boats have been mooring in this are for many months in ever increasing numbers, regardless of the weather.”
China’s maritime assertiveness has put President Rodrigo Duterte in an awkward spot due to his controversial embrace of Beijing and reluctance to speak out against it. The Philippine government’s response to this latest provocation in the long series of violations of our maritime rights and blatant encroachment into our sovereign territory will determine if how our expansionist neighbor will proceed with its plans.
If we do not push back using all the tools at our disposal now, how much closer does the Chinese maritime expansion have to get before we push the panic button?*