Philippine authorities officers on Saturday launched photos of what they stated have been 220 Chinese vessels moored on the boomerang-shaped Whitsun Reef, which Manila calls the Julian Felipe Reef, shut to the western Philippine province of Palawan within the South China Sea on March 7.

“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 stated Sunday, in accordance to state-run Philippine News Agency (PNA).

The reef, which is a part of the Spratly Islands archipelago, is claimed by each governments. The Philippines maintains that it falls contained in the nation’s unique financial zone. A 2016 ruling by a United Nations tribunal dismissed China’s declare to just about all the South China Sea, although Beijing has refused to acknowledge the choice.

Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs Teodoro Locsin Jr. stated he had lodged a protest with the Chinese authorities over the presence of the Chinese vessels, tweeting late Sunday, “Diplomatic protest fired off tonight; can’t wait for first light.”

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson stated Monday the fishing boats have been engaged in routine operations in what China calls the Nansha Islands.

“For a long period of time, Chinese fishing boats have been fishing in adjacent waters. Some ships have been sheltering from the wind. It is very normal. We hope relevant sides could look at this rationally,” spokesperson Hua Chunying stated.

The National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea launched photos of the vessels over the weekend, CNN Philippines reported, citing trigger for concern “due to the possible overfishing and destruction of the marine environment.” However, the duty pressure additionally famous the vessels weren’t fishing when sighted regardless of the climate being clear.

Lorenzana referred to as developments a “clear provocative action of militarizing the area” in a press release reported by the PNA.

The Chinese fishing fleet

China has been accused of utilizing its huge fishing fleets to assist assert Beijing’s territorial claims all through the 1.3 million sq. mile South China Sea, although China has dismissed the accusations as groundless.

In a 2019 report on the fleet, the Center for Strategic and International Studies stated “a significant number of fishing vessels in the area forgo fishing full-time to serve as a direct arm of the state,” and that fishing boats “stand at least as much chance of triggering a violent clash as do the region’s armed forces.”

While the Whitsun Reef nonetheless stays outdoors of Beijing’s direct management, China has unilaterally remodeled different reefs within the Spratly chain into man-made islands with substantial infrastructure and navy fortifications, together with missiles, runways and weapons programs.

And the Chinese fishing fleet has been seen pressuring different Philippine claims within the Spratlys.

For instance, from early 2019 by March 2020 China maintained a presence of maritime militia vessels round Thitu Island, the most important Philippine occupied island within the Spratly archipelago, in accordance to the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative.

Chinese warships head into Sea of Japan

As Chinese ships have been drawing consideration within the South China Sea, the People’s Liberation Army Navy was exhibiting a few of its lately acquired muscle within the waters of the Sea of Japan.

The Chinese People's LIberation Army Navy destroyer Nanchang is seen in a photo provided by Japan's Defense Ministry.
The Japanese Defense Ministry and Chinese state-run outlet Global Times reported {that a} PLA Navy Type 055 guided-missile destroyer, the Nanchang, led a pressure of a Type 052 destroyer and Type 054 frigate by the Tsushima Strait and into the Sea of Japan for the primary time.
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“Entering the Sea of Japan shows that the Type 055 has gained the capability to patrol in distant sea regions, and is an indication of the PLA Navy’s progress,” Song Zhongping, a Chinese navy knowledgeable, informed Global Times.

Japan’s Defense Ministry stated reconnaissance craft confirmed the Chinese ships went by the Tsushima Strait, saying it was the primary time for Japan’s forces to spot the Type 055 destroyer.

The Type 055 is seen as a key part of China’s quickly modernizing fleet because the PLA Navy pushes to challenge its affect farther from the nation’s shores.

“This ship in particular has a sophisticated design, stealth features, radars, and a large missile inventory. It is larger and more powerful than most US, Japanese, and South Korean destroyers,” Rand Corp. senior analyst Timothy Heath stated in 2018.

The deployment of the Chinese ships into the Sea of Japan got here simply days after US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with their counterparts in Tokyo for a sequence of bilateral talks.
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After these talks, Japanese Minister of Foreign Affairs Toshimitsu Motegi stated the US and Japan “oppose any attempts to alter the status quo in the area including East China Sea and South China Sea.”

Motegi additionally stated the US had reconfirmed its dedication to assist Japan defend the Senkakus, a string of disputed islands within the East China Sea that China calls the Diayous and claims as its personal.

But within the Global Times report, Song, the navy knowledgeable, stated the deployment of the Chinese warships to the Sea of Japan was probably long-planned and routine.

“The PLA’s training is not targeted at Japan or the US, but these countries will likely perceive it that way because they see China as their imaginary enemy,” Song stated within the report.

“The PLA needs to boost its combat capability in distant seas to safeguard its sovereignty, security and development interests in an uncertain and unstable world, with external threats from a small circle led by the US,” Song informed Global Times.

CNN’s Jennifer Deaton in Atlanta, Chie Kobayashi in Tokyo, Yasmin Coles in Manila and Beijing bureau contributed to this report