KEY POINTS

  • Philippines Coast Guard intensified maritime training in the West Philippine Sea 
  • The country protested the continued presence of Chinese boats in the area 
  • EU also called out China for endangering regional peace and stability in the region

Unfazed by the barrage of protests from neighbors over its aggressive tactics in the South China Sea, China mounted pressure on the Philippines Tuesday against holding war drills in the West Philippine Sea. 

"We urge the relevant side to respect China's sovereignty and rights and interests, and stop actions complicating the situation and escalating disputes," CNN quoted Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin. He was responding to queries about the maritime exercises conducted by the Philippine Coast Guard near the disputed Whitsun Reef. 

Wang also reasserted Beijing's claim over Spratly Islands (Nansha), Pag-asa Island (Zhongye), and Scarborough Shoal (Huangyan). Beijing claims these features are part of its Zhongsha Islands and their adjacent waters, and that they exercise jurisdiction in relevant waters. 

These islands are administered by the Philippines, and the 2016 arbitral tribunal ruling in Hague reaffirmed the Philippines’ sovereign rights in its exclusive economic zone. China has refused to recognize this ruling.

The Philippines had intensified maritime training in the West Philippine Sea, deploying eight capital ships of the national government in Bajo De Masinloc and Pag-asa Island. This comes two days after the country protested the continued presence of Chinese boats in the area. 

China had deployed over 200 vessels, manned by maritime militia, in the Whitsun Reef, angering the Philippines. The Chinese act stationed near the reef since March had triggered a war cry in the South China Sea, with US Navy and PLA deploying warships in the disputed waterway. 

Meanwhile, reports, citing data from Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, say 14 Chinese militia vessels have been spotted in the Whitsun Reef. 

According to Carlo Schuster, a retired U.S. Navy captain and a professor of diplomacy and military science, Beijing is trying to gain "de facto" control over the area by sending their ships.

"They are hoping to drive away Filipino fishermen to gain de facto control of these waters. If your people don't go there, if your fishermen don't go there, if your coast guard and navy don't go there, in effect they become Chinese waters," the GMA News quoted Schuster.

The European Union recently blamed China for endangering regional peace and stability. "The EU reiterates its strong opposition to any unilateral actions that could undermine regional stability and the international rules-based order," the EU said in a statement.

A Philippine coast guard ship sails past a Chinese coast guard ship near Scarborough shoal in the South China Sea in May 2019 A file picture of a Philippine coast guard ship sailing past a Chinese coast guard ship near Scarborough shoal in the South China Sea Photo: AFP / TED ALJIBE