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Its navy plans to deploy more than 200 armed militiamen on motorboats to patrol the sea in the latest development of a territorial standoff with China. China believes it has sovereignty over most of the region. Its militia occupies territory claimed by the Philippines and also Vietnam.
The Eastern superpower has been locked in maritime disputes with the other coastal states for many years but appears to have increased its number of vessels as other countries are battling COVID-19.
Teodoro Locsin, Philippines foreign affairs secretary, says the plan is to “swarm” the area to mirror China and that this will also include the use of fishing boats.
Mr Locsin said this week in an online discussion: “We are swarming the areas because that’s the Chinese strategy- to swarm the areas also with the fishing boats.”
During the talk, organised by non-profit organisation The Asia Society, he added “the likelihood of an accident increases tremendously” with a large number of boats in the water.
The Philippines’ defence pact with the US will be activated if a home vessel is targeted, Mr Locsin said, citing assurances from Michael Pompeo, the White House’s Secretary of State.
Wang Wenbin, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, reiterated China’s claim over the South China Sea at a Beijing press briefing earlier today.
But Mr Wenbin said the country is willing to work for continued peace and stability in the region.
He told the briefing: “China’s sovereignty, rights and interests in the South China Sea have been established over the long course of history and are solidly grounded in history and law.
“China stands ready to work together with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries, including the Philippines, in the same direction to jointly uphold peace and stability in the South China Sea.”
Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte told world leaders last month the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s 2016 ruling still stands.
It ruled in favour of the Philippines and views Beijing’s territorial claims in the South China Sea as a breach of international law.
Mr Duterte said the PCA’s ruling “is now part of international law, beyond compromise and beyond the reach of passing governments to dilute, diminish or abandon.”
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He added: “We firmly reject attempts to undermine it.”
Philippines plans follow the publication of satellite images showing Chinese vessels have been based at the Scarborough Shoal, located just off the island, for five months.
Other images show Vanguard Bank, to the south of Vietnam, where Chinese boats have been stationed for three months, and at the Union Banks, where China and Vietnam have outposts, for seven months.
The Vietnamese government has not commented on the presence of Chinese ships in the disputed territory.
But it has contested other elements of Beijing’s involvement in the South China Sea, such as military drills at the Paracel Islands, also claimed by Vietnam.
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