A China Coast Guard vessel observed during a routine maritime patrol overflight on April 3, 2021, in the West Philippine Sea (WPS). | Palawan News photo

The persistent presence of Chinese maritime militia vessels in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) means it is aimed at occupying other features in the area, Department of National Defense (DND) Sec. Delfin Lorenzana said Sunday.

“The continued presence of Chinese maritime militias in the area reveals their intent to further occupy features in the West Philippine Sea,” he said in a press statement on April 4.

Chinese vessels spotted within the 200 nautical miles Philippine exclusive economic zone (EEZ) on April 3, 2021. | Palawan News photo

“They have done this before at Panatag Shoal or Bajo de Masinloc and at Panganiban Reef (also known as Mischief Reef) brazenly violating Philippinesovereignty and sovereign rights under international law,” Lorenzana added.

The defense chief said the Chinese Embassy’ utter disregard of international law, particularly the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to which China is a party is “appalling” and that its nine-dash line is “without any factual or legal basis”.

“This, together with its so-called historical claim, was flatly and categorically rejected by the arbitral tribunal,” Lorenzana said. “The Philippines’ claims stand on solid ground, while China’s do not”.

Lorenzana said China should respect Philippine sovereignty over the Kalayaan Islands, and its sovereign rights over its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) as defined by UNCLOS and affirmed by the arbitral award.

He said that as a party to the Declaration of Conduct (DOC), China should refrain from conducting activities that can disturb regional and international peace and security.

Lorenzana’s statement was released in response to a Chinese Embassy spokesperson’s assertion on Saturday, April 3, that the presence of its vessels in Julian Felipe Reef (Niu’e Jiao) is “normal practice” since it is part of Nansha Islands. 

“The Chinese Embassy has taken note of the recent statement and remarks of the Philippine side on the presence of alleged Chinese Maritime Militia Vessels at Niu’e Jiao,” the Chinese Embassy spokesperson said.

“Niu’e Jiao is a part of China’s Nansha Qundao. Chinese fishing vessels have been fishing in its adjacent waters for many years. Recently, some Chinese fishing vessels take shelter near Niu’e Jiao due to rough sea conditions,” the spokesperson added.

The spokesperson said there is also no Chinese maritime militia as alleged, and any speculation in such helps nothing but causes unnecessary irritation.