The Philippines has accused China of “swarming” a reef off its coast after more than 135 military boats were spotted in the South China Sea.
The coast guard said the boats were “dispersed and scattered” in the vicinity of Whitsun Reef, which it says is within its exclusive economic zone.
They said the growing presence of these military boats was “alarming”.
The South China Sea is at the centre of a territorial dispute between China, the Philippines and other countries.
Whitsun Reef – which the Philippines calls Julian Felipe Reef – is around 320km (200 miles) west of Palawan Island, more than 1,000km from the nearest major Chinese landmass of Hainan island.
The Philippines’ Coast Guard said the number of Chinese maritime militia vessels in the area had increased from the 111 they recorded in November. There has been no response from China.
Friction between the two countries over competing sovereignty claims has increased since Ferdinand Marcos Jr became president last year.
Last week, the Philippines carried out two separate joint air and sea patrols with the US, and with Australia a few days earlier.
An international tribunal invalidated China’s claim to 90% of the South China Sea in 2016, but Beijing does not recognise the ruling and has been building islands in the disputed waters in recent years.
The contested waters have also become a naval flashpoint for China-US relations, and in October, US President Joe Biden warned that the US will defend the Philippines in case of any attack.
President Biden’s comments were made days after two collisions between Filipino and Chinese vessels in the waters.
Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Brunei also claim parts of the sea.
Source : BBC