Manila, March 25, (dpa/GNA) - The Philippine military on Thursday deployed additional Navy ships to beef up maritime patrols in the disputed South China Sea.
The deployment comes after the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said more than 200 Chinese vessels were spotted off Whitsun Reef, locally known as Julian Felipe Reef, which is within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone.
"By the increased naval presence in the area, we seek to reassure our people of the AFP’s strong and unwavering commitment to protect and defend them from harassment," Philippine military spokesman Major General Edgard Arevalo said in a statement.
Arevalo said military officials met with their Chinese counterparts on Wednesday to discuss the situation in the area, conveying the demand of Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana for the vessels to leave Whitsun Reef.
Arevalo said "China's People’s Liberation Army representatives reiterated their government’s assurance that those ships were not manned by militia and that those were constrained to seek shelter in the area when inclement weather hampered their fishing activity."
The Philippine coastguard had said earlier that the fishing vessels were manned by Chinese maritime militia personnel, moored in the area since early March "despite clear weather at the time."
The United States, Japan, Australia and Canada have raised concerns about the Chinese presence.
China claims almost the entire South China Sea as its territory and has built artificial islands with military-capable facilities in the area.
Aside from the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have overlapping claims to the area, which is believed to be rich in natural resources.