Fri, 16 Apr 2021

Beijing [China], March 30 (ANI): The United States, Japan and Indonesia have escalated pressure on China over its activities in the South China Sea after an ongoing tussle between Beijing and the Philippines over a disputed reef came to light last week, South China Morning Post reported.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken tweeted on Monday morning that the US "stands with our ally, the Philippines" in the face of what he called China's "maritime militia" amassing at Whitsun Reef in the Spratly Islands. "We will always stand by our allies and stand up for the rules-based international order," he wrote.

Meanwhile, the Japanese and Indonesian defence ministers agreed at a meeting on Sunday to send a message that their two countries would strongly oppose any action by China that could escalate tensions in the contested regional waterway.

According to Japan's Nobuo Kishi, this will include a boost to their defence cooperation and a joint exercise in the South China Sea.

Early this month, Phillippines said that over 200 Chinese vessels have massed at a disputed reef in the West Philippine sea.

In an unusual announcement published by the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) on its Facebook page, the National Task Force on the West Philippine Sea said ships have "massed" at the Julian Felipe Reef, the official Philippine name for Whitsun Reef, Manila Times reported.

Julian Felipe Reef is a large boomerang-shaped shallow coral reef 175 nautical miles west of Bataraza, Palawan, and northeast of Pagkakaisa banks and reefs or the Union Reefs. The reef is claimed by China and the Philippines both.

The reef is also claimed by Vietnam, which calls it Da Ba Dau. Hanoi has said the Chinese vessels are infringing on its sovereignty.

The Philippines' air force has been holding air patrols over Chinese fishing vessels on the reef. Meanwhile, their air force has made repeated calls to Beijing for their withdrawal from the area, Al Jazeera reported.

In response to the Chinese vessels, the Philippines foreign ministry has filed a diplomatic protest against China while the Philippine navy and coast guard ships have been deployed in the area to monitor the situation.

"We are ready to defend our national sovereignty and protect the marine resources of the Philippines," said Philippines defence secretary Delfin Lorenzana.

An international tribunal at The Hague in 2016 supported the Philippines' claim to the reef as part of its exclusive economic zone, as defined by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. However, the ruling was rejected by Beijing, which claims more than 90 per cent of the disputed South China Sea.

China claims sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea and has overlapping territorial claims with Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan.

China has been increasing its maritime activities in both the South China Sea and the East China Sea over the past few months, partly in response to Beijing's concerns over the increasing US military presence in the region because of escalating Sino-US tensions.

Beijing's rising assertiveness against counter claimants in the East and South Sea has resulted in unprecedented agreement across the Indo-Pacific. (ANI)

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