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Chinese ships play shell game, remain in West Philippine Sea despite protests –AMTI

GMA News Online logo GMA News Online 23/10/2021 TED CORDERO,GMA News
a man riding on the back of a boat in the water: Philippine Coast Guard personnel on board a pump boat cruise past a row of six Chinese vessels spotted in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) during a two-day maritime patrol on April 13 and 14, 2021. The presence of over 240 Chinese vessels, including war ships, across the WPS has prompted the Department of Foreign Affairs to file fresh diplomatic protests. PHILIPPINE COAST GUARD © Philippine Coast Guard Philippine Coast Guard personnel on board a pump boat cruise past a row of six Chinese vessels spotted in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) during a two-day maritime patrol on April 13 and 14, 2021. The presence of over 240 Chinese vessels, including war ships, across the WPS has prompted the Department of Foreign Affairs to file fresh diplomatic protests. PHILIPPINE COAST GUARD

Chinese militia ships continue to flock to the West Philippine Sea despite diplomatic protests by the Philippine government, the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) said Saturday.

In its latest report, the AMTI said that “recent imagery shows that the number of ships at Iroquois [Reef] has fallen since the Philippine protest, but it also suggests that many of those vessels likely headed back to Union Banks, where numbers are now reaching the levels seen in March.”

“This is evidence of the Chinese militia’s shell game in the Spratly Islands. When international outcry or patrols by other claimants convince them to leave a disputed feature, they disperse to nearby reefs for a time. But their overall numbers in the Spratlys remain consistent,” the think tank said.

AMTI noted that on September 30, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. ordered the filing of three new protests with China over recent actions in the South China Sea, including the “continued presence of Chinese fishing vessels in [the] vicinity of Iroquois Reef.”

It said that an examination of satellite imagery revealed that Chinese militia vessels began gathering at Iroquois in April, just after the dispersal of the nearly 200 vessels that had been gathered at Whitsun Reef within the Union Banks earlier in 2021.

But, AMTI said satellite imagery from Planet Labs showed Chinese boats first arriving at Iroquois Reef in mid-April, just after the 200 massed at Whitsun Reef dispersed.

“The total number of ships at Iroquois seems to have remained low through early June, with no more than 5 ships visible on any date. But by June 15, the number had grown to 15, and would double to an average of 30 boats in late July,” the think tank said.

“The average number of vessels fell back to 15 in August before rising again to 30 in late September,” it said.

The AMTI said that after the mass deployment at Whitsun Reef, Chinese vessels leaving one contested area most often end up at another.

“In this case, many of them may have gone back to Union Banks, where the number of vessels visible in satellite imagery has been rising over the past three months,” it said.

“In early August, imagery showed only an average of 40 vessels visible in the northern half of Union Banks, which includes Whitsun Reef. By September, over 100 boats were visible. And in an image from October 17, well over 150 ships can be seen,” it added.

The numbers included some Vietnamese coastguard and fishing boats, “but the vast majority are Chinese fishing vessels 50 meters or more in length.”

On October 20, the Philippines filed another protest over Chinese vessels challenging its patrol ships in the Spratlys with horns, sirens, and radio communications.

“If this massing of militia vessels at Union Banks continues, more diplomatic protests are likely to follow,” AMTI said. — DVM, GMA News

This article Chinese ships play shell game, remain in West Philippine Sea despite protests –AMTI was originally published in GMA News Online.

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