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14 Chinese militia vessels spotted in Julian Felipe Reef

Fourteen Chinese militia vessels have been spotted in the Julian Felipe Reef in the West Philippine Sea, according to a Bernadette Reyes' report on Unang Balita on Monday, citing data from Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTS).

A recent Philippine patrol also spotted the same number of Chinese vessels in the area, the report said.

According to Carlo Schuster, a retired US Navy captain and now a professor of diplomacy and military science, Beijing is trying to gain "de facto" control over the area by sending their ships.

"They are hoping to drive away Filipino fishermen to gain de facto control of these waters," he said in the report.

"If your people don't go there, if your fishermen don't go there, if your coast guard and navy don't go there, in effect they become Chinese waters."

The European Union over the weekend said tensions in the South China Sea, including the recent presence of large Chinese vessels at the Julian Felipe Reef (Whitsun Reef), endangers regional peace and stability.

"The EU reiterates its strong opposition to any unilateral actions that could undermine regional stability and the international rules-based order," the EU said in a statement.

The Union went on to urge all parties to resolve disputes through peaceful means under international law, particularly the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), including its dispute settlement mechanisms.

The Philippines has filed a series of protests in connection with the presence of the foreign vessels in Julian Felipe Reef and insisted that they be withdrawn immediately.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said some 160 Chinese vessels were spotted in Philippine waters.

In a diplomatic note dated April 21, the DFA said the presence of these vessels in the West Philippine Sea "blatantly infringe upon Philippine sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction."

Despite repeated calls and protests from the Philippines, Chinese ships continue to linger in the area and have even been spotted in other parts of the Kalayaan Island Group in the municipality of Kalayaan, Palawan off the country’s northwestern waters.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry has denied that the vessels were manned by "maritime militia" and insisted that the reef was part of China's Nansha Islands.

China and five other governments - Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan - have been locked in long-simmering territorial rifts in the South China Sea that analysts feared as Asia’s next potential flashpoint for a major armed conflict.

Parts of the South China Sea that fall under the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone has been renamed West Philippine Sea by the Philippine government.  —KBK, GMA News