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Philippines summons Chinese envoy over Julian Felipe Reef situation

The Department of Foreign Affairs has summoned China’s envoy to Manila to protest the lingering presence of Chinese vessels in a Philippine reef, highlighting renewed tensions between the two Asian neighbors over disputed territories in the South China Sea.

Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian was called to the DFA on Monday by acting Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Elizabeth Buensuceso. This was the first time the DFA summoned China’s ambassador since more than 200 Chinese militia vessels were spotted in the reef in early March.

Although the numbers have decreased over the weeks, at least nine vessels have remained, according to Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr.

“The DFA expressed displeasure over the lingering presence of Chinese vessels in Julian Felipe Reef,” a DFA statement said.

“The continuing presence of Chinese vessels around the reef is a source of regional tension.”

In the meeting, Buensuceso told Huang that the Julian Felipe Reef is within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea or UNCLOS.

Buensuceso informed Huang that the 2016 arbitral tribunal court, which ruled in favor of the Philippines, had already invalidated China’s massive and historical claim over nearly the entire South China Sea.

“The 12 July 2016 Award in the South China Sea Arbitration ruled that claims to historic rights, or other sovereign rights or jurisdiction that exceed the geographic and substantive limits of maritime entitlements under UNCLOS, are without lawful effect,” Buensuceso told Huang.

China, a signatory to the UNCLOS along with the Philippines, does not recognize the ruling and maintained indisputable claim over 90% of the waters, dotted by clusters of islands, cays, shoals and reefs with rich fishing areas and natural oil and gas.

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.

Manila filed last March a diplomatic protest against Chinese swarming in its waters and called on China to immediately withdraw its ships in the reef, a boomerang-shaped feature located 175 nautical miles of Bataraza, Palawan and clearly within the Philippines’ EEZ.

Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said he will lodge a diplomatic protest against China everyday until all their ships leave the reef.

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.

China’s presence in the reef demonstrates its resolve to assert claims over the waters, while ignoring calls from several countries backing the Philippines, such as the United States, Japan, Australia, United Kingdom, New Zealand to leave and cease raising tensions in the area.

Buensuceso likewise reminded the Chinese side of “proper decorum and manners in the conduct of their duties as guests of the Philippines” after its embassy spokesperson openly maligned Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana for demanding the immediate withdrawal of China’s ships in the reef.

Although both sides affirmed the peaceful settlement of disputes in addressing the South China Sea issue, Buensuceso reiterated the Philippine government’s demand for the immediate departure of all Chinese vessels from the reef and other maritime zones of the Philippines, the DFA said. —KBK, GMA News