China denies incursion as over 200 ships dock at Philippine reef

Beijing said on Monday that bad weather prompted why over two hundred Chinese fishing vessels anchored at a reef claimed by the Philippines, sidestepping accusations from Manila of a move by China’s vast South China Sea maritime militia to assert control in the area.

But, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying was reported to have told reporters at a briefing Monday that Whitsun Reef was part of the Spratly Islands, one of the main archipelagoes in the South China Sea, which China claims virtually in its entirety.

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“Recently, due to the sea conditions, some Chinese fishing boats have taken shelter from the wind near the Whitsun Reef. I think it is very normal and hope all parties can look at it rationally,” Hua said at the daily briefing.

Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana called on Sunday for China to “stop this incursion and immediately recall these boats violating our maritime rights and encroaching into our sovereign territory.”

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For decades China, the Philippines and four other governments have been locked in a tense territorial standoff over the resource-rich South China Sea, through which an estimated $5 trillion in international trade travels annually.

China has refused to recognize a 2016 ruling from a tribunal in The Hague that invalidated almost all of China’s historical claims to the South China Sea, and routinely protests the presence of other countries’ navies in what are overwhelmingly viewed as international waters. China says it doesn’t restrict right of passage through the area, but has repeatedly sparred with other claimants over resource exploitation, military activities and even projects to explore ancient sea wrecks.

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