Maritime exercises in disputed sea conducted by Philippines amid tensions with China

Manila, Philippines: As Chinese coast guard ships continue to amass near a disputed reef in the South China Sea. The Philippines has conducted maritime exercises in the disputed West Philippine Sea.

Members of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources began their “intensified” maritime training, CNN Philippines reported.

In a statement, the PCG said eight capital ships of the national government have been deployed for the maritime exercises in Bajo De Masinloc and Pag-asa Island. The exercises cover navigation, small boat operations, maintenance, and logistical operations.

Lawyers, medical workers, and maritime specialists are also on board the vessels, the PCG said.

The vessels would also be used to perform maritime drills in the Batanes Group of Islands, Benham Rise, as well as in the southern and eastern portions of the Philippines.

“We are supporting the whole-of-nation approach in securing our maritime jurisdiction, especially the efforts of the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea to undertake maritime security, maritime safety, maritime law enforcement, maritime search and rescue, and marine environmental protection roles in our country’s waters,” PCG spokesperson Commodore Armando Balilo said.

Last Friday, the Foreign Affairs Department filed two diplomatic protests amid China’s refusal to remove its vessels in the country’s maritime zones.

The DFA said that as of April 20, 160 Chinese fishing vessels and maritime militia have been spotted by law enforcement agencies in Philippine waters.”

The presence of these vessels blatantly infringe upon Philippine sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction,” the DFA said in a statement.

Last month, the Philippines announced the deployment of additional navy ships to the South China Sea after over 200 Chinese vessels were spotted in the Whitsun Reef. Later, the Philippines also filed a diplomatic protest over the issue.

China claims sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea and has overlapping territorial claims with Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan.

China has been increasing its maritime activities in both the South China Sea and the East China Sea over the past few months, partly in response to Beijing’s concerns over the increasing US military presence in the region because of escalating Sino-US tensions.

The defence and foreign affairs ministries in the Philippines have been up in arms for a fortnight over the presence of Chinese vessels at Whitsun Reef, with statements flying back and forth over the alleged incursion into the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

Even after such an intensifying row, China hasn’t shown any sign of relocation of the vessels.

Instead, it has accused the Philippines of using a 2016 international tribunal ruling, which deprived China of certain outcrops of territorial-generating status, the ruling from the permanent court of arbitration effectively punches holes in China’s all-encompassing “nine-dash” line that stretches deep into the South China Sea, as reported by the Sydney Morning Herald.

The 2016 International Tribunal Ruling denies China of its thousand years of fishing rights in the area.