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In an escalating spat between the two nations, the Philippines warned China of more diplomatic protests if the Chinese vessels, believed to be a part of maritime militia, didn’t leave the disputed area of Whitsun Reef in the South China Sea region.

“For every day of delay the Republic of Philippines will lodge a diplomatic protest”, the department of foreign affairs said in a statement on Monday. It also reiterated its call for the Chinese vessels to immediately withdraw from the Whitsun Reef, which it maintained is a part of the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

This comes just after a statement on Sunday when the Philippines defence secretary Delfin Lorenzana had accused Beijing of planning to occupy more features in the South China Sea.

China has “done this before” in other contested areas like Scarborough Shoal and is “brazenly violating Philippine sovereignty,” Lorenzana said. He was reacting to a statement from China’s embassy in Manila, which on Sunday described waters around Whitsun Reef, where hundreds of Chinese vessels were spotted early last month as its “traditional fishing grounds” and “part of China’s Nansha Islands.”

China claims almost the entirety of the resource-rich South China Sea and has asserted its stance by building bases on reefs and shoals with airstrips and port facilities.

The Philippines’ Foreign Affairs Department cited its 2016 international arbitrational victory against Beijing and said that the Chinese embassy’s statement “contained blatant falsehoods.”

Beijing often invokes the nine-dash line to justify its apparent historic rights over most of the South China Sea and has ignored the 2016 international tribunal decision that declared this assertion without basis.

The remarks from the Defense and Foreign Affairs department signal a tougher stance from the Philippines government. Philippine’s Foreign Secretary further said on Sunday that he is considering a demarche following the statement by the Chinese embassy.

A fleet of more than 200 Chinese ships that sparked a diplomatic row last month after parking at Whitsun Reef off the Philippines is now scattered across the contested Spratly Islands.

Devak Singh
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