(ORDO NEWS) — Tensions continue to rise in the South China Sea as the Philippines reported spotting a Chinese navy vessel and over 40 militia vessels near Thitu island, a Philippine-occupied island in the disputed region. Thitu, also known as Pag-asa, is Manila’s largest and most strategically important outpost in the area, making this latest development a cause for concern for the Philippines.
The Philippine Coast Guard reported that the 42 vessels seen in the area were believed to be crewed by Chinese maritime militia personnel. The presence of these vessels, along with the Chinese navy vessel and coast guard ship “slowly loitering” in the waters surrounding Thitu island, has further heightened territorial tensions in the region.
The Chinese embassy in Manila has yet to respond to the report, adding to the uncertainty surrounding the situation. Thitu island lies about 300 miles west of the western Philippine province of Palawan and is home to over 400 people, including military and law enforcement personnel. The island is used by Manila to maintain its territorial claim in the South China Sea.
Experts have noted that China’s fishing fleet and coast guard play a central role in its strategic ambitions in the region. These vessels maintain a constant presence in the disputed waters, which complicates fishing and offshore energy activities by other coastal states.
The presence of Chinese vessels in the area is considered by some as an effort to expand China’s maritime influence in the region.
In response to this latest development, the Philippine Coast Guard issued a statement saying, “Their continuing unauthorized presence is clearly inconsistent with the right of innocent passage and a blatant violation of the Philippines’ territorial integrity.”
This sentiment was echoed by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr, who declared two weeks ago that the Philippines “will not lose an inch” of territory in the face of China’s “aggressive activities” in the sea.
The Philippines has filed a total of 77 complaints against China’s activities in the South China Sea, including an incident on February 6 where a Chinese coast guard ship directed a “military-grade laser” at a Philippine coast guard ship on a supply mission. These complaints reflect the growing frustration of the Philippines with China’s actions in the disputed waters.
China claims sovereignty over the Spratlys, while Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam all have competing claims for some or all of the islands. The contested waters are rich in natural resources, making them a valuable asset for any country that can claim sovereignty over them.
The situation in the South China Sea remains fluid, with tensions mounting as more countries assert their claims to the disputed waters. The Philippines, in particular, has taken a firm stance against China’s activities in the region, and the latest sighting of Chinese vessels near Thitu island is sure to further complicate an already tense situation.
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