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China: Maritime militia boats in Julian Felipe Reef 'justified, lawful'

China on Monday evening said the operation of its maritime militia boats in Julian Felipe Reef is “justified and lawful” after over 130 Chinese vessels were spotted in the area recently.

In a press conference, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin insisted that Julian Felipe Reef, which he called Niu’e Jiao, is part of China’s Nansha Qundao.

“Niu’e Jiao is part of China’s Nansha Qundao. Relevant waters of the South China Sea, including Niu’e Jiao and its adjacent waters, have always been important operating areas and shelters for Chinese fishing boats,” he said.

“It is justified and lawful for Chinese fishing boats to operate or shelter from wind in the area, and the Philippines is in no position to make irresponsible remarks,” he added.

On Sunday, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) reported that "more than 135" Chinese maritime militia (CMM) have been monitored off Julian Felipe Reef.

“No response was made to the radio challenges issued by the PCG to the CMM vessels which is now estimated to have grown to more than 135 vessels dispersed and scattered within Julian Felipe Reef,” it said.

Julian Felipe Reef is located 175 nautical miles west of Bataraza, Palawan, according to the PCG. It is considered a low tide elevation in the Kalayaan Island Group, over which the Philippines has sovereignty, it added.

The PCG vowed to protect the West Philippine Sea  in accordance with international laws, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the 2016 Arbitral Award, and Philippine domestic laws.

In 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled in favor of the Philippines, invalidated Beijing's claim, and said that its nine-dash line has no legal basis under international law.

China refused to recognize the ruling. —Joviland Rita/KBK, GMA Integrated News