Philippines urged to play hardball with Beijing in South China Sea – 'Really concerned'

A spokesman to the Philippine president reported that in the wake of the maritime incursion, he has expressed “concern” to China’s ambassador. The incident at Whitsun Reef, which saw around 220 vessels moor within Manila’s exclusive economic zone, created an international outcry, with many people throwing criticism at Beijing for the “swarming and threatening presence”.

President Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesman, Harry Roque, said on Thursday: “The president said we are really concerned.

“Any country will be concerned with that number of ships.”

In response, the Philippine foreign ministry said it infringed upon “Philippine sovereignty.”

Philippine defence officials issued a demand for the vessels to leave on Thursday but, despite the warning, 183 remain moored to the reef.

US-based technology company, Simularity, which analyses satellite data, documented that, although the news was only recently reported, the vessels have been aggregating in the region since last year.

Simularity said it reported “mooring, arriving and departing at Whitsun Reef since mid-December 2020.”

China’s embassy in Manila rejected allegations that the vessels were “creating an atmosphere of instability” and insisted they are fishing vessels merely taking shelter from rough seas.

Simularity reported that, with the current configuration, “fishing is impossible.”

READ MORE: Philippines outraged over ‘threatening presence’ of Chinese ships

China has claimed more than 90 percent of the resource-rich region as part of its One-China policy and has been working on several construction projects throughout the region.