Philippine defense secretary in rhetoric with China over coral reefs

MANILA, Philippines (AFP) – The Philippine Defense Secretary again called on Saturday for dozens of Chinese ships to leave coral reefs to claim Manila in the South China Sea, and said he would not be fooled by Chinese assurances that ships were damaged. Provided by the weather.

The Chinese embassy responded to a “baffling statement” by Defense Minister Delphine Lorenzana, insisting that the ships had the right to resort to the alleged Chinese territory. “No one has the right to make defamatory statements about such activities,” she said.

The unusually hostile public exchange arose from the sighting of more than 200 Chinese ships by the Philippine Coast Guard earlier last month that Lorenzana called “the militia” on the Whitson Reef. The Philippines lodged a diplomatic protest, saying the names of Julian Philippe’s coral reefs are in an internationally recognized marine area where they have exclusive rights to exploit fisheries, oil, gas and other resources.

China has ignored Manila’s request that Chinese ships leave the area it calls Niue Jiao, claiming it is Chinese territory. The Chinese embassy in Manila said the ships were protecting themselves from the harsh sea conditions on the coral reefs.

“The Chinese ambassador has a lot of clarity to do,” Lorenzana said in a statement on Saturday, adding that recent Philippine military surveillance showed 44 Chinese ships were still anchored in the coral reefs.

“I’m not stupid. The weather is fine so far, so they have no other reason to stay there. These ships should be on their way out,” Lorenzana said on Saturday.

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The Chinese embassy responded again by repeating that the ships were hiding in so-called Chinese waters.

“It is completely natural for Chinese fishing boats to fish in the waters during the harsh sea conditions and take shelter near coral reefs,” the embassy said.

“We hope that the concerned authorities will make constructive efforts and avoid unprofessional statements that may reinforce irrational feelings,” the letter said. “China is committed to maintaining peace and stability in the waters,” she added.

Whitsun Striff is located in Spratly, the most competitive region in the South China Sea. The Philippines is a series of resource-rich islands, islets, and atolls that are part of the western province of Palawan. But China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei claim all or part of the marine area. China has turned seven controversial coral reefs into missile-protected island bases in the past few years, creating tension.

The United States expressed its support to the Philippines, its old ally in the treaty, accusing China of “using maritime militias to intimidate, provoke and threaten other countries and thus undermine peace and security in the region.” Beijing denied the ships were part of a naval militia.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has strengthened friendly relations with Beijing since taking office in 2016 and has been criticized for not promptly urging China to comply with an international arbitration award that undermined Beijing’s historic claims to almost the entire South China Sea. China has refused to acknowledge the 2016 decision, calling it a “disgrace” and is still defying it.

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