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Chinese security ship orders Filipino plane to ‘escape’ with media

OVER THE SPRATLY ISLANDS, PHILIPPINES — As a Philippine Coast Guard plane carrying journalists flew over the Spratly Islands in the hotly contested South China Sea, a Chinese voice over the radio issued a stern order: “Leave immediately.”

The order came from a radio operator on a China Coast Guard ship 3,500 feet (1,066 meters) under the water – one of dozens of ships navigating the waters.

AFP was one of several media outlets given a rare opportunity Thursday to fly over some of the dozens of tiny islands and reefs that the Philippines, China and several other nations have competing claims to.

Beijing claims sovereignty over almost all of the South China Sea, including the Spratlys, ignoring an international ruling that says its claims have no legal basis.

Over the past decade it has demolished thousands of acres of reef in the archipelago to create militarized islands with airstrips, harbors and radar systems.

To assert their claims, hundreds of China Coast Guard and Maritime Militia vessels are patrolling the waters, swarming reefs, harassing and attacking fishermen and other boats.

They are also trying to force non-Chinese planes out of the airspace above them.

“You have entered (the water around) a Chinese reef and posed a safety threat. To avoid any misunderstanding, exit immediately,” the Chinese radio operator said in one of seven messages broadcast in Chinese and English as the plane Coast Guard flew over Philippine-held island and shoal.

The Filipino pilot replied that they were flying in Philippine territory.

– “Bullying behavior” –

During the four-hour flight in the Cessna Caravan, Philippine Coast Guard personnel identified nearly 20 Chinese vessels, including suspected maritime militia boats, in waters around some of the nine islands and reefs occupied by the Philippines.

Seventeen Chinese naval militia boats were also sighted by the Philippine Coast Guard near the Sabina Shoal claimed by Manila.

Fifteen Chinese naval militia boats were seen near Thitu, the largest island occupied by the Philippines, which is about 430 kilometers (267 miles) from the large Philippine island of Palawan.

A Chinese Navy vessel was 15 kilometers from the island, while a Coast Guard vessel was only half that distance, according to estimates by the Philippine Coast Guard.

At Second Thomas Shoal, where Philippine marines are stationed in a derelict naval vessel to assert Manila’s territorial claim in the waters, a Chinese Coast Guard vessel was about 11 kilometers away, Philippine authorities said.

Last month, a Chinese Coast Guard boat was nearly 20 kilometers from the shoal when it reportedly used a military laser light on a Filipino patrol boat.

This was the latest major maritime incident between the Philippines and China.

It sparked a new diplomatic row, prompting Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos to take the unusual step of confronting the Chinese ambassador in Manila.

Marcos has insisted he will not allow China to trample on the Philippines’ maritime rights – unlike his predecessor Rodrigo Duterte, who was reluctant to criticize Beijing.

The Philippines’ new strategy was to denounce China’s “bullying behavior and aggressive actions,” Commodore Jay Tarriela, the Philippine Coast Guard spokesman for the West Philippine Sea, said at a forum in the capital Manila on Wednesday.

Manila refers to bodies of water immediately to the west as the West Philippine Sea.

The Coast Guard regularly releases information, including photos and videos, about Chinese ships in the waters around Philippine-held territories.

This helps inform Filipinos and allows other countries to criticize China for its activities, Tarriela said.

And it’s forcing Beijing to “step out in the open to explain or lie outright”.

Source: Crypto News Deutsch

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