Philippine Senator Manny Pacquiao on Thursday urged China to halt its “creeping occupation” of the Philippines’ Juan Felipe Reef in the South China Sea and recall a fleet of Chinese fishing vessels moored near the structure since early March.
“Its [China’s] militia fishing boats that have encroached in areas surrounding the [Julian Felipe Reef]. … As a friend and neighbor, I appeal to the Chinese leadership to stop this creeping occupation and use your authority to disperse these Chinese fishermen,” the senator said in a statement issued April 8.
Pacquiao said he backed Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana’s formal appeal to Beijing on March 21 to disperse its vessels from Juan Felipe reef.
“We call on the Chinese to stop this incursion and immediately recall these boats violating our maritime rights and encroaching into our sovereign territory,” Lorenzana said in a statement.
The Philippine military believes the 220-strong fishing fleet anchored at Juan Felipe Reef since at least March 7 is manned by Chinese maritime militia members. Juan Felipe Reef is located within the boundaries of the Philippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), which grants Manila the sole rights to fishing and natural resource gathering in the region. Beijing illegally lays claim to Juan Felipe Reef, as it does to nearly 90 percent of the contested South China Sea.
Sen. Pacquiao said on April 8 that China and the Philippines “must stand together” to find a peaceful resolution to the South China Sea dispute, which is an issue “that concerns the whole of Asia.”
“This matter on territorial claims … affects practically all nations in our continent. China can and will elevate itself as Asia’s unifying force if it starts to heed existing international laws including the UNCLOS,” Pacquiao said, referring to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
China’s claims to nearly all of the South China Sea were ruled illegal by an independent arbitral tribunal established under UNCLOS in 2016. Beijing rejected the ruling in the case, brought by the Philippines, and has continued to push forward with its belligerent occupation of other nations’ territory in the disputed waterway ever since.
“Instead of expanding and occupying disputed territories, China should sustain building its goodwill and friendship towards its neighboring nations so that our whole region can look up to it as one of the world’s respectable global powers,” Sen. Pacquiao said Thursday.
If China withdraws its ships from Juan Felipe Reef, the action would “show a neighborly gesture of mutual understanding and true friendship,” the senator added.
Manila repeatedly urged Beijing to recall its fishing boats from Juan Felipe Reef since the Philippine Coast Guard first spotted the fleet “moored in line formation” near the structure on March 7. China refused to move the vessels, forcing the Philippine military to order regional “maritime sovereignty patrols” near Juan Felipe Reef in recent weeks. The defensive security measures include daily flyovers by Philippine fighter jets.
I’ve flown over some of the artificial islands of China when they were still being built. So see them now, completed, is both chilling and sobering.
— Chiara Zambrano (@chiarazambrano) March 31, 2021
The recent air patrols spotted new “illegally” built Chinese structures on the Philippines’ Pagkakaisa Banks and Reefs, located a short distance southwest of Juan Felipe Reef, on April 1.