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French Embassy raises concerns on developments in South China Sea

Chinese vessels seen in West Philippine Sea

The French Embassy in Manila expressed concern over the recent incidents in the South China Sea.

In a press statement issued on Monday, the embassy called for respect for international law and the resolution of disputes through a dialogue.

"We are resolutely opposed to any use of force or threat to do so. We recall, in this regard, the Arbitration award rendered under UNCLOS on the 12th of July 2016," the embassy said.

Recently, the Armed Forces of the Philippines said more than 50 Chinese vessels had been spotted in the vicinity of Iroquois Reef and Sabina Shoal in the West Philippine Sea.

The Philippine military conducted an air patrol last June 30 in which it was observed that the Chinese fishing vessels were "anchored in groups of five to seven and no fishing activities were noticed."

Based on earlier Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) flights, the AFP's Western Command said the number of Chinese fishing vessels in the area had increased from 12 in February to 47 on June 12.

The military also said that aside from the fishing vessels, three China coast guard (CCG) ships and two People's Liberation Army Navy vessels were seen "regularly loitering" near Sabina Shoal.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine Coast Guard are set to intensify patrols in the Iroquois Reef in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) after the Chinese vessels were recently spotted “swarming” in the area, the PCG said Sunday.

Interviewed on Super Radyo dzBB on Sunday, PCG spokesperson for the West Philippine Sea (WPS) Commodore Jay Tarriela pointed out that Iroquois Reef is only 128 nautical miles away from Palawan and thus falls within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

Meanwhile, the Philippine Coast Guard earlier reported another incident wherein Chinese vessels made dangerous maneuvers near Philippine vessels that could have caused a collision in the Ayungin Shoal.

For his part, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin had said the maneuvers of their vessels were “professional and restrained.”

Wang said the Ren’ai Reef (Ayungin Shoal) was part of China’s Nansha Islands, adding that it was the PCG vessels that supposedly intruded Chinese waters.

Beijing claims sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea, including the Spratly Islands, as it ignores an international ruling that invalidates its massive claims.

Malacañang has been silent over these recent incidents, but President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. previously said that the search continues for solutions that would address the challenges jointly faced by the Philippines and China.

Marcos had said that the differences between the two nations did not define the entirety of their ties.

He believed that having direct communication with Chinese President Xi Jinping as well as other important Chinese officials is necessary to avoid misunderstandings on various issues.

The Permanent Court of Arbitration made the landmark ruling in July 2016 that "there  was no legal basis for China  to claim historic rights to resources within the sea areas falling within the ‘nine-dash line.'" 

"[Although] two Chinese navigators and fishermen, as well as those of other States, had historically made use of the islands in the South China Sea, there was no evidence that China had historically exercised exclusive control over the waters or  their  resources," it added.

The 501-page ruling was handed down in The Hague, Netherlands, more than three years after the case was filed by the Philippines in January 2013. —KG, GMA Integrated News