The US yesterday said that it is backing the Philippines in a new standoff with Beijing in the disputed South China Sea, where Manila has asked a Chinese fishing flotilla to leave a reef.
Beijing ignored the call, insisting it owns the offshore territory.
The US embassy said it shared the concerns of the Philippines and accused China of using “maritime militia to intimidate, provoke, and threaten other nations, which undermines peace and security in the region.”
“We stand with the Philippines, our oldest treaty ally in Asia,” the US embassy in Manila said in a statement.
Philippine Secretary of Defense Delfin Lorenzana on Sunday demanded about 200 Chinese vessels he said were militia boats leave the Whitsun Reef, a shallow coral region about 175 nautical miles (324km) west of Bataraza town in Palawan province.
Philippine officials said the reef, which they call Julian Felipe, is well within the nation’s internationally recognized exclusive economic zone, over which the Philippines “enjoys the exclusive right to exploit or conserve any resources.”
The Philippine Coast Guard on March 7 spotted about 220 Chinese vessels moored at the reef.
On Monday, a surveillance aircraft spotted 183 Chinese vessels still at the reef, said Philippine military chief Lieutenant General Cirilito Sobejana, who released aerial pictures of the Chinese vessels in one of the most hotly contested regions in the strategic waterway.
The Philippines has filed a diplomatic protest over the Chinese presence, Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs Teodoro Locsin Jr said.
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