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Protests in Philippines over 200 Chinese vessels near an island occupied by Manila

Dragon boat racers paddle past a floating tarpaulin as they take part in a fluvial protest by environmentalists against the planned reclamation projects to be built in different areas of Manila Bay Wednesday, March 27, 2019 in Manila, Philippines. Conservation groups, fisherfolk, and the Manila Yacht Club, joined together to drumbeat public support to stop reclamation projects involving thousands of hectares (acres) of the scenic Manila Bay. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

The Philippines has filed a diplomatic protest over the presence of more than 200 Chinese boats near an island occupied by Manila in the disputed South China Sea, the president’s spokesman said on Monday.

President Rodrigo Duterte has pursued warmer ties with China since taking office in 2016 in exchange for billions of dollars of pledged loans and investment. The Department of Foreign Affairs protested against the vessels near the Philippines-occupied Thitu island, presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo told a regular news conference, without describing the boats. The Chinese ambassador said they were fishing boats.

“The mere fact that they are there and just staying there for a week, why, what are they doing there?” Panelo said. It was unclear when and where the Philippines filed the protest. The Philippines monitored more than 200 Chinese boats near Thitu, locally called Pagasa, in January to March this year, military data showed.

The Philippines, China, Vietnam, Taiwan, Brunei and Malaysia have competing claims of sovereignty in the waterway, a conduit for in excess of $3.4 trillion of goods. Lights from hundreds of buildings in China’s sprawling artificial islands can be seen at night from Thitu.

Both Chinese and Filipino fishermen are present in the contested waters, Zhao Jianhua, China’s ambassador to the Philippines, told reporters. He denied media reports that Chinese fishermen were carrying firearms. Beijing and Manila were handling maritime issues through friendly and diplomatic channels, Zhao said. (RTRS)

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