Manila (Reuters) – The The Philippine military is sending light combat aircraft to fly hundreds of Chinese ships in disputed waters in the South China Sea, its defense minister said, as he quickly withdrew his demand.
International concern is mounting that the Philippines has described more than 200 Chinese vessels as having “the presence of herds and threats” that Manila believes were operated by maritime militias.
The boats were marooned in the Whitsun Reef in the 200-mile Special Economic Zone of Manila.
In a statement late Saturday, Secretary of Defense Delfin Lorenzana said that Philippine military aircraft are sent daily to monitor the situation.
Lorenzana said the military would also increase its naval presence in the South China Sea to conduct its “patrol” and protect Filipino fishermen.
“Our air and sea assets are ready to protect our sovereignty and sovereign rights,” Lorenzana said.
The Chinese Embassy in Manila did not immediately respond to a request for comment. It has stated that the boats at Whitsun Reef were boats taking shelter from the rough seas and that there were no militias.
His spokesman said Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte confirmed China’s Ambassador Huang Xilian in 2016, after the Philippines won an arbitral arbitration case, which made it clear about sovereign rights among China’s rival claims.
Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, China and Vietnam have contested territorial claims in the South China Sea, through which annual trade of at least $ 3.4 trillion passes.
(Reporting by Karen Lema; Editing by Stephen Coats)
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