The Philippines issued a formal diplomatic protest to China after hundreds of fishing vessels were spotted at a disputed reef in the South China Sea.
About 220 Chinese vessels were seen moored in line at Whitsun Reef in the South China Sea on March 7, a Philippine government task force overseeing the disputed seas said in a statement on Saturday.
The area, which the Southeast Asian nation calls Julian Felipe, is a large but shallow boomerang-shaped coral reef within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, the task force said. The vessels’ presence is “a concern due to the possible overfishing and destruction of the marine environment, as well as risks to safety of navigation,” the Philippines government statement said.
“We call on the Chinese to stop this incursion and immediately recall these boats violating our maritime rights and encroaching into our sovereign territory,” Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said in a statement. “We are committed to uphold our sovereign rights.”
Both China and the Philippines have overlapping claims in the resource-rich South China Sea. In January, the Philippines filed a diplomatic protest against China’s law giving its coast guard freedom to fire on foreign vessels.
A diplomatic protest was “fired off tonight,” Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin said on Twitter on Sunday evening.
— With assistance by Cecilia Yap, and Andreo Calonzo