A Philippine official said Wednesday that he recently spotted five suspected Chinese coast guard and navy ships at a disputed atoll in the South China Sea and fears Beijing will take control of another area frequented by Filipino, Vietnamese and Malaysian fishermen.
Mayor Eugenio Bito-onon Jr., who heads a Philippine-claimed region in the disputed Spratly Islands, said he saw the Chinese ships at the Jackson Atoll for two straight days last week while flying in a plane over the area.
Bito-onon said Chinese government vessels have not been stationed at the atoll, which the Philippines calls Quirino, in the years he has been passing by the uninhabited, ring-shaped reef.
Jackson Atoll lies several kilometres (miles) from the Philippine-claimed Mischief Reef, which China occupied in 1995 and has turned into an island containing what appears to be a runway. It lies midway between the western Philippine province of Palawan and Filipino-occupied Thitu Island in the Spratlys.
The Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila said it was trying to verify the reported Chinese presence and a report by the Philippine Star newspaper that the Chinese ships recently prevented Filipino fishermen from approaching the area. Chinese Embassy officials were not immediately available for comment.
A Philippine security official said the air force was preparing to fly a surveillance plane to verify the Chinese presence. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the military does not discuss such covert missions publicly.
Source and image: CTV News