The Philippines has made the announcement today that it will increase its military presence in the South China Sea as a result of monitoring Chinese activity in waters that are contested as part of the territorial dispute between the Philippines and China. The Philippines claims that there is a potential threat to one of its garrisons as a result of this monitoring.
The Philippine Department of National Defense said the armed forces had been ordered to “increase the country’s presence in the West Philippine Sea due to detected Chinese activity near Pag-asa Island (also called Thitu Island),” one of the islands in the disputed Spratly archipelago. It did not specify the nature of the “Chinese activity”.
The body of water extending westward from the Philippines coast is referred to as the “West Philippine Sea.”
US satellite imagery reveals the presence of artificial islands in the region, which may have been caused by a Chinese ship equipped with a hydraulic excavator in the region in recent years. This material was referred to as “totally devoid of any foundation” by the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“Any encroachment on the West Philippine Sea and any (development of unoccupied lands – Ed.) there poses a threat to the security of Pagasa Island,” emphasized the Philippine Department of National Defense.
In June, the Philipines government inaugurated a new beaching ramp on Pag-asa Island, paving the door for future construction projects on the country’s primary outpost in the West Philippine Sea.
Chinese militia warships loomed over the horizon as Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and the military’s top brass visited the island on June 9 to officially launch the new dock.
Lorenzana stated during the occasion that President Rodrigo Duterte is hesitant to visit the island to avoid upset relations with China.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said on November 23 that the Philippines had submitted a note verbale to China in response to the incident in Pag-asa Island in the West Philippine Sea.
The letter verbale was issued on Wednesday after a Chinese Coast Guard ship captured Philippine Navy missile debris.
According to the Philippine military, the Philippine Navy was reportedly towing suspected rocket debris to Pag-asa Island on November 20 when the Chinese Coast Guard intercepted the boat and “forcibly retrieved” the debris.
Residents in Pag-asa heard a string of explosions after the reported event of forcible retrieval. According to a statement by local authorities, “the repetitive sounds” were believed to have originated from “artillery guns/weapons” on Chinese-held Zamora (Subi) Reef, the largest of seven man-made islands constructed by Beijing in the Spratly Islands, some 26 kilometres distant.
The Chinese Embassy in Manila, however, denied the existence of a “forced retrieval.” It was also mentioned that a “friendly” consultation occurred.
Beijing has staked a claim to practically the entirety of the maritime route, which yearly transports commercial items worth billions of dollars. China is ignoring a judgement by a United Nations tribunal in 2012 that found its claims to be without foundation. Additionally, Taiwan and several nations that are members of ASEAN, including the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei, have territorial claims to the waters that are in dispute.
Manila makes frequent accusations that Chinese ships and coast guards obstruct the movement of Philippine fishing boats and other vessels.
China has occupied at least seven islands, and reefs that make up the Spratly archipelago, and the country has constructed airstrips, ports, and radar systems on those lands.