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PCG: 25 Chinese militia vessels, 2 China Coast Guard ships spotted at Bajo de Masinloc

The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) on Friday confirmed the presence of at least 25 Chinese militia ships at Bajo de Masinloc or Scarborough Shoal in the West Philippine Sea, more than a four-fold increase compared to its presence last February at the rich fishing ground.

The militia ships were accompanied by China Coast Guard vessels 3106 and 3302, PCG spokesperson for the West Philippine Sea Commodore Jay Tarriela was quoted as saying in Chino Gaston's report Friday on 24 Oras.

Tarriela added that two of the Chinese militia vessels were spotted inside the shoal area.

On X (formerly Twitter), former United States Air Force official and ex-Defense Attaché Ray Powell said ten Chinese militia ships and two Chinese Coast Guard vessels were at the vicinity of the contested shoal.

China's current strength at Bajo de Masinloc, located within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone (EEZ), is a significant rise to the six Chinese vessels spotted last February during a voyage of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), along with a GMA Integrated News coverage team.

The 24 Oras report added that 12 Filipino ships were seen fishing at Bajo de Masinloc.

No floating barrier was currently in place, Tarriela said.

Last September, the China Coast Guard installed an estimated 300-meter long flotation barrier at the southeast portion of Bajo de Masinloc, preventing Filipino fishermen from entering the area.

The barrier was later removed by the PCG, citing a hazard to navigation and a "clear violation of international law."

Two months ago, the BFAR said satellite images showed a floating barrier installed at Bajo de Masinloc, but the China Coast Guard removed it purportedly anticipating an attempt by the Philippines to enter the shoal's lagoon.

GMA Integrated News reached out to the Chinese Embassy for comment but it has yet to respond as of posting time.

PH-US-Japan trilateral summit

Meanwhile, security analyst Renato de Castro said the increase in the numbers of the Chinese fleet might be related to the trilateral meet by the Philippines, United States, and Japan.

"It might be a coincidence. It just so happened that they are there. The fishing ground is fertile so it's the ideal season to converge in that area. Another possible option is they might be sending a signal that there's an area showing Chinese resolve despite the holding of the trilateral summit," De Castro said.

"They (China) will not be intimidated by the ironclad commitment extended to the Philippines by the United States and by the [leaders in the] trilateral summit," he added.

In Washington DC, the Philippines, United States, and Japan expressed "serious concerns" over China's "dangerous and aggressive" behavior in the South China Sea.

"We steadfastly oppose the dangerous and coercive use of Coast Guard and maritime militia vessels in the South China Sea, as well as efforts to disrupt other countries’ offshore resource exploitation," the Joint Vision Statement of the three countries' leaders read.

In the statement, they pledged to strengthen their cooperation in efforts to promote domain awareness, along with humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

“We resolve to advance trilateral defense cooperation, including through combined naval training and exercises between our three countries and additional partners… and by coordinating US and Japanese support for Philippine defense modernization priorities,” the statement read. — VDV, GMA Integrated News