Worrisome Presence of Chinese Warships in Scarborough Shoal – Marcos

This photo taken on February 15, 2024 shows a Chinese navy ship shadowing a Philippine Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources boat (not pictured) near the China-controlled Scarborough Shoal, in disputed waters of the South China Sea. Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos said on February 28, 2024 the presence of Chinese warships in waters off the Southeast Asian country's coast was "worrisome", after the Philippine Coast Guard said Chinese navy vessels were detected during a government resupply mission to Filipino fishermen near China-controlled Scarborough Shoal.
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UPDATE: President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. expressed his concern over the reported presence of Chinese warships and a helicopter near Bajo de Masinloc (Scarborough Shoal). While acknowledging the changing situation in the disputed waters, Marcos emphasized that the Philippines would continue to defend its maritime territory.

In a chance interview before departing for Australia, Marcos highlighted the evolving nature of the situation. He noted that previously, it was only the Chinese coast guard that operated in the area, but now, the navy and fishing boats were present. This development has raised alarms for the Philippines.

Despite these concerns, Marcos assured that the Philippines would closely monitor the activities of all parties involved. The country remains committed to defending its maritime territory and supporting the livelihoods of its fishermen who rely on these fishing grounds.

In 2016, an international court in The Hague ruled that the Philippines had fishing rights in the Bajo de Masinloc or Scarborough Shoal. However, China continues to disregard this decision, further complicating the situation.

Meanwhile, the Philippine ambassador to the United States, Jose Manuel Romualdez, highlighted the West Philippine Sea (WPS) as a potential flashpoint in the region. Romualdez revealed that skirmishes in the area often caused President Duterte sleepless nights, emphasizing the significance of the WPS issue.

Romualdez stated that the real problem and flashpoint lie in the West Philippine Sea, rather than the Taiwan Strait. He elaborated that China’s treatment of Taiwan is more calculated, as the Taiwanese are prepared to defend themselves. However, he cautioned that a major accident resulting from the skirmishes in the WPS could trigger the invocation of the Mutual Defense Treaty with the United States, leading to a potentially volatile situation.

Commodore Jay Tarriela, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) spokesman for the West Philippine Sea, confirmed the presence of three People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy warships near Bajo de Masinloc during the last mission of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR). However, Tarriela clarified that the warships maintained a distance of more than 20 nautical miles from Bajo de Masinloc.

It is essential to note that within the 12 nautical miles, the Philippines holds territorial sovereignty over these waters. Tarriela emphasized that the Chinese warships have consistently remained outside this boundary.

During the same mission, the BFAR vessel also observed a Chinese Navy helicopter flying over the waters of Bajo de Masinloc. Tarriela highlighted that this was the first sighting of this type of aircraft in the area, further contributing to the concerns surrounding the presence of Chinese military assets.

The reported presence of Chinese warships and a helicopter near Scarborough Shoal has raised concerns for the Philippines. As the situation in the disputed waters evolves, the Philippines remains committed to defending its maritime territory and supporting its fishermen. The West Philippine Sea continues to be a potential flashpoint, with skirmishes causing unease for President Duterte. The Philippines closely monitors the activities in the area, emphasizing the importance of upholding territorial sovereignty while striving to avoid invoking the Mutual Defense Treaty with the United States.

Source: The Manila Times

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