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The Philippines armed forces said on Friday the military had seen in recent weeks an “alarming” surge in the number of fishing boats from China in disputed areas of the South China Sea, including near the Reed Bank area which hosts a stalled Philippine natural gas project.
The long-running dispute in the South China Sea involves territorial claims by China as well as Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Brunei, and Malaysia. China has territorial claims to about 90 percent of the South China Sea, which has put it at odds with its neighbors.
A court in The Hague in 2016 ruled against China’s claims and in favor of the Philippines. The ruling said that the Philippines had sovereign rights in its 200-mile exclusive economic zone to access offshore oil and gas resources, including in the Reed Bank.
China, however, has not acknowledged the ruling, which has heightened tensions in the area. Instead, it has continued with its agenda, according to which most of the sea is Chinese waters.
In June 2022, the Philippines ditched talks with China on a potential joint exploration for oil and gas in the South China Sea due to sovereignty issues and constraints in the Philippines’ constitution.
Because of the Chinese claims over most of the South China Sea, the Philippines has struggled to find partners willing to engage in the exploration of resources in the basin.
Now, the Philippines raised an alarm over the soaring number of Chinese fishing vessels in the disputed areas. The Western Command (WESCOM) of the Philippines armed forces said that there were 47 such boats as of last month, up from only around a dozen in February.
“China must cease its swarming of vessels to respect our sovereign rights,” Ariel Coloma, spokesperson for the Western Command, said in a statement carried by Reuters.
By Charles Kennedy for Oilprice.com
Charles is a writer for Oilprice.com