December 5, 2023
MANILA – The presence of more than 100 suspected Chinese maritime militia (CMM) ships in the Julian Felipe Reef could be a preparation for reclamation activities, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) said on Monday.
PCG spokesperson for the West Philippine Sea Commodore Jay Tarriela said this is just one of the possibilities they see as a substantial increase of vessels were observed in the sand bank compared to previous months.
“There are possibilities that these Chinese maritime militia are just occupying a particular maritime feature and then if they are not going to be noticed or exposed, there is a possibility that they would eventually carry out reclamation activities in a particular area,” Tarriela said over CNN Philippines.
Aside from being a show of force, Tarriela also said that the CMM around the general vicinity of the low-tide elevation was intended for reinforcement of Chinese Coast Guard against the regular resupply mission in the BRP Sierra Madre grounded in Ayungin Shoal.
“Every time that they are going to carry out an operation to prevent our resupply mission, most of these Chinese maritime militia are also deployed in Ayungin, as a reinforcement for their Chinese Coast Guard vessels for us to be prevented in doing the resupply,” Tarriela said.
“There are also instances and people are saying that this Chinese maritime militia is also a strategy for China to show off their capability in sending out maritime militia in a particular area with such numbers,” he added.
PCG on Sunday said it has monitored more than 135 suspected CMM vessels in Julian Felipe Reef.
Tarriela said the PCG carried out a radio challenge against these vessels, but these challenges were ignored.
The CMM’s presence is in line with Beijing’s assertion of sovereignty over nearly the entire South China Sea — including the 200-mile exclusive economic zone of the western section of Manila — but a 2016 ruling from an international tribunal effectively dismissed their claims.