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DFA protests anew as over 100 Chinese vessels return to Julian Felipe Reef

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Thursday protested anew against the return of more than 100 Chinese vessels to Julian Felipe Reef, an area in the West Philippine Sea.

The DFA said the vessels were found illegally operating in the maritime waters of Julian Felipe Reef, which is a low tide elevation within the territorial sea of relevant high tide features in the Kalayaan Island Group, including Chigua Reef, on April 4, 2022.

In March 2021, over 200 Chinese vessels swarmed Julian Felipe Reef, prompting a series of diplomatic protests from the Philippine government. Reports have said that the majority of the vessels have left the area, but several have remained.

The department said the unauthorized presence of Chinese vessels in the Julian Felipe Reef is “not only illegal but also a source of instability in the region.”

“The persistent swarming of Chinese vessels is contrary to international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the final and binding 2016 Arbitral Award. It is also a violation of China’s commitments under the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, in particular, the exercise of self-restraint pursuant to Paragraph 5 thereof,” the DFA said in a statement.

“The Philippines regrets this Chinese violation of international law days after the successful 08 April 2022 telesummit between President Rodrigo R. Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping where the two leaders reaffirmed their commitment to solve issues of mutual concern through peaceful dialogue, and exercise restraint in any and all endeavors relating to the South China Sea,” it added.

The DFA has called on China to comply with its obligations under the international law, cease and desist from displaying “illegal and irresponsible behavior," noting that to avoid further maritime conflicts.

It also urged to immediately withdraw all of its vessels in the Philippine maritime waters.

In 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, Netherlands, following a case filed by the Philippines, invalidated China's sweeping claims over the waters. Beijing does not recognize the ruling. — BM, GMA News