Philippines Deploys Ships, Aircraft to South China Sea amid China Threat

Members of Philippine navy special operations group (NAVSOG) signal to Philippine landing ships loaded with Philippine-US marines, and civilian volunteers as security and disaster responders during a simulation of a disaster drill as part of the annual joint Philippines-US military exercise in Casiguran town, Aurora province on May 15, 2017. …
TED ALJIBE/AFP via Getty Images

The Philippine military recently deployed nearly a dozen ships and five aircraft to protect Manila’s assets from ongoing encroachments by Beijing in the disputed South China Sea, a Philippine government task force said Wednesday.

“We are exhausting all means possible to protect our territory and EEZ [exclusive economic zone],” the Philippines’ National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) said in a statement on April 21.

Seven ships from the Philippine Navy, two vessels from the Philippine Coast Guard, and two more boats from the Philippine Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources were recently positioned throughout the Philippines’ EEZ, including near the Philippines’ Julian Felipe Reef, recently invaded by China.

“Five aircraft from the Philippine Air Force and Philippine Navy are also in Palawan to conduct aerial patrols,” the Philippine Inquirer reported on Wednesday.

Palawan is a Philippine province located in the West Philippine Sea near Julian Felipe Reef. The Philippine Coast Guard spotted 220 Chinese fishing boats moored near the reef on March 7. China’s presence in the reef’s waters directly violated Philippine maritime sovereignty and Manila filed a formal diplomatic protest with Beijing to recall the vessels.

China refused to move the boats, however, illegally claiming sovereignty over Julian Felipe Reef. The Chinese fishing fleet largely dispersed from Julian Felipe Reef in recent weeks, but Manila believes the vessels remain within the boundaries of the Philippines’ EEZ, where the country holds exclusive rights to fishing and natural resource exploration. The Philippine military also said it believes the Chinese fishing fleet was manned by Chinese militia members.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines ordered increased “maritime sovereignty patrols” near Julian Felipe Reef, including daily flyovers by Philippine fighter jets, after Beijing’s initial refusal to recall its fishing fleet from the reef’s waters. The Philippine military’s deployment of nearly a dozen additional ships and five aircraft to the South China Sea this week serves to bolster these ongoing sovereignty patrols.

The NTF-WPS also announced Wednesday it is facilitating the construction of new infrastructure to support an increased military presence near Manila’s disputed features in the South China Sea, the Philippine Star reported on April 21.

“A … sheltered port and beaching ramp were put up on Pag-asa Island and an airstrip there is being rehabilitated,” the task force said. Pag-asa Island is located in the Philippines’ Spratly Island chain, also illegally claimed by China.

“The NTF said this will improve the delivery of goods, transport of people and services, and boost investments in fisheries and tourism,” according to the newspaper. “Facilities for cellular and data connection to the island’s residents were also done by a telecommunications company, while the [Philippine] Department of Information and Communications Technology is constructing a facility for Wi-Fi coverage.”

An independent arbitral tribunal established under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) ruled in 2016 that Beijing’s claims to nearly 90 percent of the South China Sea were illegal. Beijing refused to accept the ruling of the landmark case, brought by Manila, and has continued to illegally lay claim to nearly all of the South China Sea since then.

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