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Philippines boosts military presence in disputed waters

The Philippines’ defence
ministry has ordered the military to strengthen its
presence in the South China Sea after monitoring “Chinese
activities” in disputed waters close to a strategic
Philippine-held island.

The ministry did not specify what activities those were, but its statement on Thursday follows a report earlier this week of Chinese construction
on four uninhabited features in the disputed Spratly islands.

Beijing has dismissed that report as “unfounded”.

Any encroachment or reclamation on features within the
Philippines’ 200-mile exclusive economic zone “is a threat to
the security of Pagasa island, which is part of Philippine
sovereign territory,” the ministry said in a statement, using
the Filipino name for Thitu island.

“We strongly urge China to uphold the prevailing rules-based
international order and refrain from acts that will exacerbate
tensions,” it added.

The Chinese embassy in Manila reiterated that China strictly
abides by a consensus reached among claimants that included not
developing uninhabited reefs and islands.

Philippines: Chinese vessels ‘swarming’ area around disputed islands

‘Friendly consultations’

Asked to respond to the defence ministry’s statement, it
said both countries would ”properly handle maritime issues
through friendly consultations.”

China claims most of the South China Sea, through which
billions of dollars worth of goods pass each year. 

Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have
overlapping claims to various islands and features.

Thitu is the most strategically important of nine features
the Philippines occupies in the Spratlys, located close to Subi

Subi Reef is one of the seven features where China built artificial islands, some of which have been installed surface-to-air missiles, aircraft
hangars, and runways.

The Philippine military’s Western Command in a statement
said it had observed via regular navy and air patrols a
“persistent presence” of Chinese militia near Thitu island and
around Lankiam Cay, Whitsun Reef, and Sandy Cay.

It did not specify what the Chinese boats were doing.

Philippines asks Chinese flotilla of 200 vessels to leave disputed reef

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