Philippines building up fleet in West Philippine Sea to counter Chinese

by Warren Ryan Revoltar

The Philippines is taking a page out of China’s book by building up its own fleet that includes fishing boats in the West Philippine Sea, the Southeast Asian nation’s top diplomat said.

“We are swarming the areas because that’s the Chinese strategy– to swarm the areas also with the fishing boats,” Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin said in an online discussion this week organized by Asia Society.

“The likelihood of an accident increases tremendously” by deploying vessels in disputed waters, Locsin said. He also said the Philippines’ defense treaty with the U.S. will kick in if one of the country’s military vessels is hit, citing U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo’s assurance last year.

China is willing to work with the Philippines and other Southeast Asian countries to uphold peace and stability in the West Philippine Sea, said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin at a press briefing in Beijing on Wednesday, while maintaining Beijing’s historical claims in the disputed waters.

President Rodrigo Duterte has recently leaned back toward the U.S. and toughened his stance against China. Last month in front of world leaders, he defended the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s 2016 ruling in favor of the Philippines that said Beijing’s expansive territorial claims in the West Philippine Sea breached international law.

The Philippine Navy is planning to deploy over 200 armed militiamen on motorboats to patrol the West Philippine Sea, its chief Vice Admiral Giovanni Carlo Bacordo told Rappler earlier this month. Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, citing Duterte’s advice, however, last week said the Southeast Asian nation may not have enough resources to send its own maritime militia. — Bloomberg

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