It has been construed for quite a while now that the battle for exclusive control of economic rights in the West Philippine Sea was long lost by the country, as repeated so often by President Rodrigo Duterte. China was the regional superpower and the best any neighboring nation can do was to share and cooperate with it to avoid political friction. The sheer strength the Chinese can bring to the waters west of the Philippines can be seen in the hundreds of vessels they have surrounding Pag-asa Island. While a diplomatic protest from the country seems unlikely to see them off, they actually did depart.
As ABS-CBN News has it, the intimidating encirclement of vessels from mainland China around Pag-asa Island, called Thitu in Vietnamese, has since been called off in the wake of a new diplomatic protest filed by the Philippines to Beijing. This was confirmed on Tuesday, August 6, by the Philippine armed forces, which maintains a garrison there as its primary presence on the Spratly Island chain that Pag-asa is part of. Ever since July a flotilla of Chinese fishing vessels has maintained a round-the-clock stationing offshore, fueling suspicions that their crews are undercover Chinese military personnel.
In a Tuesday statement, AFP Western Command chief Vice Admiral Rene Medina noted that the disappearance of the Chinese vessels around Pag-asa was first noticed some four days ago, with no discernible reason for their pullout. Estimates by observers on the island note an average of 140 fishing boats from China maintaining the encirclement before, though this was also slightly reduced to 115 following the passage of Tropical Depression Falcon. V-Adm. Medina remarks of the situation, “We are also working with Joint Task Force West to conduct patrol so that we can also verify in any areas of West Philippine Sea where they might be.”
The Philippines is not only having trouble with questionable Chinese encroachment on their West Philippine Sea holdings, it has even spread to the country’s mainland. Just last month, security at the Parola Naval station in Palawan caught two Chinese taking pictures of a new Philippine Navy ship berthed there. They identified themselves as tourists, but analysts could not help but wonder at the recent circumstances.
One possible explanation for the Chinese vessel pullout could be anything from fleeing the possible weather disturbances trigger by Tropical Storm Hanna, or to prepare to observe the recent entry of the American naval aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan into Philippine waters this same day.
Image courtesy of GMA News