Wednesday, February 21, 2024

China deploys “fishing armada” to stake claim over Whitsun Reef

The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) has unveiled alarming video evidence depicting an extensive gathering of Chinese vessels at Whitsun Reef, a low-lying feature within the western Spratly Islands of the South China Sea, igniting concerns over maritime rights and territorial integrity.

Whitsun Reef, situated within the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone, falls under Philippine governance for development despite being classified as a low-tide elevation, not an island by legal standards.

The resemblance to Chinese-occupied military outposts like Fiery Cross Reef and Mischief Reef, both transformed into full-scale bases, raises apprehensions about potential strategic developments, including the prospect of a runway, given its proximity to the nearest Chinese island airbase, approximately 50 nautical miles away.


Initial sightings by the Philippine Coast Guard on November 13 revealed 111 Chinese maritime militia trawlers congregating near Whitsun Reef, mirroring a previous pattern observed in 2021. However, recent updates from the Armed Forces of the Philippines indicate a surge in vessel count to 135. Aerial footage showcased these vessels with pristine decks and a conspicuous absence of fishing gear, raising suspicions about their purported fishing activities.

Despite their civilian façade, these trawlers often receive military training and substantial government subsidies, indicating their multifaceted role beyond fishing activities. Their involvement in such “gray zone” operations blurs the lines between civilian and military operations, complicating the response framework within contested territories like Whitsun Reef.

In response, the PCG reiterated the significance of Julian Felipe Reef, located 175 nautical miles west of Bataraza, Palawan, emphasizing its status as a low-tide elevation within the territorial sea of key high tide features in the Kalayaan Island Group. Asserting the Philippines’ sovereignty, the PCG reaffirmed its commitment to upholding maritime security and environmental preservation in adherence to international laws, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the 2016 Arbitral Award.

Admiral Gavan stressed the PCG’s relentless surveillance of the West Philippine Sea, collaborating with relevant agencies to enforce territorial integrity. Underlining their dedication to protecting Filipino interests, Gavan reiterated the PCG’s role as the custodian of laws, ensuring peace and prosperity in maritime territories consistent with the country’s policy direction.

Tensions remain high as China persists in claiming vast swathes of the South China Sea, disregarding the 2016 unfavorable ruling from the Permanent Court of Arbitration. Beijing’s expansive claims clash with those of Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Malaysia, creating a contentious geopolitical landscape in the Paracel and Spratly Islands.

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Executive Editor

About author:

Dylan Malyasov
Dylan Malyasov
Dylan Malyasov is the editor-in-chief of Defence Blog. He is a journalist, an accredited defense advisor, and a consultant. His background as a defense advisor and consultant adds a unique perspective to his journalistic endeavors, ensuring that his reporting is well-informed and authoritative. read more



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