Number of Chinese ships in West Philippine Sea increases as war games begin: Manila

This March 2021 file picture shows almost 200 Chinese vessels in the waters off Julian Felipe (Whitsun) Reef in the West Philippine Sea, despite warnings and diplomatic protests lodged by the Philippines against China. — Contributed photo

MANILA: A substantial increase in the number of Chinese vessels was monitored in the West Philippine Sea (WPS or South China Sea) on the heels of the annual war games between Manila and Washington.

Commodore Roy Vincent Trinidad, Navy spokesperson for the WPS, noted that there is no significant increase when it comes to China Coast Guard (CCG) vessels and People’s Liberation Army-Navy (PLAN) warships, but there was a “surge” in the presence of Chinese maritime militia vessels (CMMV) in the previous weeks before the start of “Balikatan” exercises this year.

“This particular increase is not normal,” Trinidad said in a regular press briefing at Philippine Navy headquarters.

On Tuesday, the Philippine Navy released data to reporters showing that 124 vessels were seen in the disputed area from April 16 to 22.

Of the 124 ships, 110 are CMMVs, 11 are CCG ships, and three are PLAN warships.

This figure is a sharp increase compared to 79 Chinese vessels recorded from April 9 to 15 that included 50 CMMVs, 15 Chinese fishing vessels, 11 CCG ships and two PLAN warships.

On the other hand, Trinidad noted that the total number of Chinese vessels for March and April has been “fairly constant,” averaging 60 vessels a week.

“It’s only for this week that we have seen a surge of up to 124 [Chinese vessels and warships]. So yes, this coincides with the Balikatan,” Trinidad said when asked if the drills have something to do with the increase.

The 39th iteration of “Balikatan” (shoulder-to-shoulder) exercises kicked off on Monday.

The activities were joined by 16,000 personnel, including contingents from the Australian Defence Force, the French Navy and the Philippine Coast Guard.

For the first time, the Philippines, United States, and France will sail together in the WPS.

Maj. Gen. Marvin Licudine, Balikatan’s exercise director, said they expect the Chinese vessels to be nearby during the drills. - Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN

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