Beijing is straining the South China Sea, filling it with hundreds of boats in an act of aggression

0

China has filled the disputed South China Sea with more than 200 boats lashed together in rows in an act of aggression designed to “ squeeze out ” other countries in Asia, experts warn.

Beijing has claimed that the Chinese ships, first spotted off the coast of the Philippines earlier this month, are just fishing boats sheltering from bad weather and allowed to be there.

But satellite images show hundreds of ships – believed to be manned by Chinese militia personnel – lined up close together while anchored off Whitsun Reef, 350 kilometers west of Palawan Island in the controversial South China Sea.

Some of the ships have since been scattered across the Spratly Islands, but last week, according to Philippine military patrols, dozens of Chinese-flagged boats were still anchored near the boomerang-shaped reef.

This is despite the fact that the Philippines has called on Beijing to withdraw the ships of the ‘maritime militias’ for weeks, saying their invasion of their exclusive economic zone is illegal.

China has filled the disputed South China Sea with more than 200 boats lashed together in rows in an act of aggression designed to `` squeeze out '' other countries in Asia, experts warn.

China has filled the disputed South China Sea with more than 200 boats lashed together in rows in an act of aggression designed to “ squeeze out ” other countries in Asia, experts warn.

Satellite imagery shows hundreds of ships - believed to be manned by Chinese militia personnel - lined up close together while anchored at Whitsun Reef, 350 kilometers west of Palawan Island in the disputed South China Sea

Satellite imagery shows hundreds of ships - believed to be manned by Chinese militia personnel - lined up close together while anchored at Whitsun Reef, 350 kilometers west of Palawan Island in the disputed South China Sea

Satellite imagery shows hundreds of ships – believed to be manned by Chinese militia personnel – lined up close together while anchored at Whitsun Reef, 350 kilometers west of Palawan Island in the disputed South China Sea

“ Beijing thinks quite clearly that if it uses enough coercion and pressure over a long enough period of time, it will squeeze out the Southeast Asians, ” said Greg Poling, the director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in told the US The New York Times“It’s insidious.”

The Philippine government’s National Task Force-West Philippines Sea said they counted 254 ships and four Chinese warships in the Spratly Islands on March 29.

They claimed the ships were not fishing vessels as China had claimed – but were instead part of the Chinese maritime militia, a group of sometimes armed civilians in the sea.

China, which claims almost all of China’s sea, has so far refused to move the boats out of the area – to which both the Philippines and the Vietnams have claims.

Some of the ships have since been scattered across the Spratly Islands, but last week, according to Philippine military patrols, dozens of Chinese-flagged boats were still anchored near the boomerang-shaped reef.

Some of the ships have since been scattered across the Spratly Islands, but last week, according to Philippine military patrols, dozens of Chinese-flagged boats were still anchored near the boomerang-shaped reef.

Some of the ships have since been scattered across the Spratly Islands, but last week, according to Philippine military patrols, dozens of Chinese-flagged boats were still anchored near the boomerang-shaped reef.

Some of the more than 220 Chinese vessels reported by the Philippine Coast Guard

Some of the more than 220 Chinese vessels reported by the Philippine Coast Guard

Some of the more than 220 Chinese vessels reported by the Philippine Coast Guard

The presence of such a large fleet of Chinese ships is intended to intimidate, says Poling.

“By having them there and spreading them out over these vast waters around the reefs that the others occupy, or around oil and gas fields or fishing grounds, you’re steadily pushing the Filipinos and Vietnamese out,” he said.

‘If you are a Filipino fisherman you are always bothered by these guys.

‘They always maneuver a little too close and blow on you. At some point you just give up and stop fishing there. ‘

A satellite image shows a Chinese ship anchored off the Whitsun Reef on March 23

A satellite image shows a Chinese ship anchored off the Whitsun Reef on March 23

A satellite image shows a Chinese ship anchored off the Whitsun Reef on March 23

The presence of the ships could cause “unwanted hostilities,” a top employee of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte warned today, fueling diplomatic feud over the ships.

Salvador Panelo, Duterte’s top legal adviser, warned that the “current territorial incursions of China are causing an unwanted blot in their bond and could create unwanted hostilities that both countries would rather not conduct.”

“The issue of territorial dispute must be resolved in the diplomatic negotiating table or according to the prescriptions of international law,” Panelo said in a statement.

It comes a day after outspoken Defense Minister Delfin Lorenzana accused Beijing of planning to occupy more ‘functions’ in the waters – where Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei also have rival claims.

The presence of the ships could ignite `` unwanted hostilities, '' a top employee of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (pictured with Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2018) warned today, fueling diplomatic feud over the ships.

The presence of the ships could ignite `` unwanted hostilities, '' a top employee of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (pictured with Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2018) warned today, fueling diplomatic feud over the ships.

The presence of the ships could ignite “ unwanted hostilities, ” a top employee of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (pictured with Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2018) warned today, fueling diplomatic feud over the ships.

“The Chinese ambassador has a lot to explain,” Lorenzana said in a statement on Saturday.

Meanwhile, the Vietnamese Foreign Ministry had accused China of violating their sovereignty and demanded the ships’ departure.

China responded to the complaints with State Department spokesman Hua Chunying, saying that Chinese fishermen have been “ fishing in the waters near the reef all the time ” – something Filipino officials say has no evidence of.

Beijing often relies on the so-called nine-dash line to justify its seemingly historic rights over most of the South China Sea, ignoring a 2016 international tribunal decision declaring this allegation unfounded.

The Philippine State Department, which has already filed a diplomatic protest against the ships, vowed on Monday to file a complaint ‘for every day’ that Beijing has been delayed in pulling out the ships.

In a clear reference to China’s donation of Covid-19 vaccines, Panelo said the Philippines appreciated the “humanitarian gesture.”

But he added, “However, we will not be blinded by any action taken by it in violation of international law and our sovereign rights.”