One of China’s coast guard ships. Source: Antara Foto/M Risyal Hidayat/Reuters.
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  • The Philippines has urged China to recall more than 200 boats in the South China Sea, claiming the presence of the vessels is in violation of its maritime rights
  • Around 220 fishing boats thought to be manned by Chinese military personnel, which were seen moored at the Whitsun Reef
  • The presence of the vessels raises concerns about overfishing and the destruction of the marine environment, as well as risks to safe navigation
  • In 2016, an international tribunal rejected China’s claim to 90 per cent of the South China Sea — a ruling which Beijing has in turn rejected
  • In January, the Philippines protested a new Chinese law allowing its coast guard to fire on foreign vessels, describing it as a “threat of war”

The Philippines has urged China to recall more than 200 boats in the South China Sea, claiming the presence of the vessels is in violation of its maritime rights.

Authorities said the Philippines coast guard had spotted around 220 fishing boats thought to be manned by Chinese military personnel, which 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,” said Defence Minister Delfin Lorenzana.

According to Marine Major General Edgard Arevalo, the reports were validated by the Philippine military, which conducted air and maritime patrols in the South China Sea.

The military’s findings were then submitted to other government agencies, which Arevalo said would be used for taking “appropriate actions not limited to filing diplomatic protests.”

“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.”

A Philippine cross-government task force said late on Saturday that the presence of the vessels raises concerns about overfishing and the destruction of the marine environment, as well as risks to safe navigation.

In 2016, an international tribunal rejected China’s claim to 90 per cent of the South China Sea — a ruling which Beijing has in turn rejected. Recent years have seen China build several islands in the disputed waters, some of which house air strips.

Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines and Brunei all claim parts of the sea.

In January, the Philippines protested 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 criticised what it called China’s attempts to bully neighbours with competing interests, while Beijing has dismissed Washington for what it calls interference in its internal affairs.

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