The Philippines urged China on Sunday to recall more than 200 Chinese boats it said had been spotted at a reef in the South China Sea, saying the presence of the vessels violated its maritime rights as it claims ownership of the area.
Authorities said the Philippines coast guard had reported that about 220 vessels, believed to be manned by Chinese maritime militia personnel, were seen moored at the Whitsun Reef, which Manila calls the Julian Felipe Reef, 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,” Defence Minister Delfin Lorenzana said.
The Philippine military had conducted air and maritime patrols in the South China Sea to further validate the report, spokesman Marine Major General Edgard Arevalo said, but did not say when.
The military had submitted its findings to other government agencies, and they would be used as basis for taking “appropriate actions not limited to filing diplomatic protests”, he said in a statement, without elaborating.
“The (Armed Forces of the Philippines) will not renege from our commitment to protect and defend our maritime interest within the bounds of the law,” Arevalo said.
Chinese boats have fished near the reef for a long time, and recently, some have been sheltering in the area due to sea conditions, said China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying on Monday.
“I think this is very normal, and hope all sides can view this rationally,” she said at a daily news conference.
Foreign minister Teodoro Locsin, asked whether he would file a diplomatic protest over the boats, told a journalist on Twitter: “Only if the generals tell me. In my watch, foreign policy is the fist in the iron glove of the armed forces.”
The vessels are fishing boats believed to be manned by Chinese military-trained personnel, according to Philippines security officials.
The vessels’ presence in the area raises concern about overfishing and the destruction of the marine environment, as well as risks to safe navigation, a Philippine cross-government task force said late on Saturday.
An international tribunal invalidated China’s claim to 90% of the South China Sea in 2016, but Beijing does not recognise the ruling. China has built islands in the disputed waters in recent years, putting air strips on some of them.
Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines and Brunei all claim parts of the sea.
In January, the Philippines protested at a new Chinese law allowing its coast guard to fire on foreign vessels, describing it as a “threat of war”.
The United States has repeatedly denounced what it called China’s attempts to bully neighbours with competing interests, while Beijing has criticised Washington for what it calls interference in its internal affairs.
The Whitsun Reef is within Manila’s exclusive economic zone, the task force said, describing the site as “a large boomerang-shaped shallow coral reef at the northeast of Pagkakaisa Banks and Reefs”.
The task force vowed to continue “to peacefully and proactively pursue its initiatives on environmental protection, food security and freedom of navigation” in the South China Sea.
“Individual countries started eating up niche specialities. Vietnam, for example, made massive efforts to grab everyday apparel manufacturing. Popular sportswear brands like Nike NKE and Adidas have rapidly re-allocated a vast majority of manufacturing and footwear base to Vietnam, from China.
Thailand has seen an increase of about 19.7% export volume from the US, specializing in automotive, food and beverage, and natural rubber manufacturing. Thailand also offers some competition to China in electronics manufacturing.
Indonesia has also emerged to be a new player in the space – appearing particularly attractive for companies seeking to relocate from China. President Joko Widodo of Indonesia has been incredibly keen to jump on the Chinese manufacturing exodus by presenting close to $1 Bil in federal investments through the creation of an industrials park in Java, Indonesia.
India, another global superpower with a quickly expanding consumer base and previous manufacturing know-how, is also attempting to reclaim a spot as a world exporter. India already has a massive auto, food, and apparel manufacturing base. Apple AAPL recently released an intent to start manufacturing the iPhone 11 at a Foxconn owned CM plant in Chennai. There’s also talk of assembly of an iPhone SE 2020 at a Wistron plant near Bangalore. Pharmaceutical companies are also turning towards Indian manufacturers for a more reliable production base. Most notably, AstraZeneca will be utilizing Indian contract manufacturer, the Serum Institute, to manufacture its newest Covid-19 drug.
Mexico and Brazil have also grabbed the spotlight and gained huge manufacturing market shares in the automotive space for both internal country production as well as export purposes.”