Philippines deploys vessels to monitor 'illegal' presence of Chinese boats in South China Sea

MANILA (Reuters) -The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) has deployed two of its vessels in the South China Sea after monitoring an “alarming” increase in the number of Chinese maritime militia vessels at a reef within the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

The number of Chinese boats believed to be manned by militia personnel has increased to more than 135 from 111 in November, scattered within the Whitsun Reef, which Manila calls the Julian Felipe Reef, the PCG said in a statement.

“The PCG maintains its unwavering commitment to safeguarding maritime security, safety and the marine environment in the course of protecting the territorial integrity, sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction of the Philippines in the West Philippine Sea,” it said.

The West Philippine Sea is Manila’s term for waters in the South China Sea that fall within its 200-nautical mile EEZ.

There was no immediate comment from the Chinese Embassy in Manila.

An international tribunal invalidated China’s claim to 90% of the South China Sea in 2016, but Beijing does not recognise the ruling. China has built islands in the disputed waters in recent years, laying air strips on some of them.

Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Brunei all claim parts of the sea.

The PCG’s report comes several days after the Philippines carried out joint air and sea patrols with the United States, which was followed by a similar undertaking with Australia in the South China Sea, fanning tension with Beijing.

The Philippines is ramping up efforts to counter what it describes as China’s “aggressive activities” in the South China Sea, which has also become a naval flashpoint for Chinese and U.S. tension.

China has accused the Philippines of enlisting “foreign forces” to patrol the South China Sea and stirring up trouble. Manila insists its maritime activities are within its rights.

(Reporting by Karen Lema; Editing by Christopher Cushing)

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