To China’s envoy, the Philippine president expresses “concern” about Chinese vessels. In the South China Sea, Vietnam is urging Beijing to honor its maritime supremacy. More than 200 people have been identified as “swarming and aggressive” in the Philippines. Inside Manila’s 200-mile exclusive economic zone, the vessels were moored at Whitsun Reef. We are highly worried, according to the president. “Every nation will be worried about the number of ships,” says one expert.

China has “important building activity” on an artificial island constructed on top of Subi Reef, according to satellite photos. The reef is also located within the Philippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone. The magnitude of the changes is important, and they could signal the start of major construction.

On Friday, Philippines Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr asked on social media if the Chinese boats in the South China Sea were a “fishing fleet” or part of a “dredging operation.” In addition, foreign law specialist and retired Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio warned Filipinos to be “very cautious” of Chinese practices.

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“I’m especially concerned that, as they did on Mischief Reef, they’ll now start claiming and constructing on Julian Felipe Reef,” he said. China began construction on a fishing shelter in Mischief Reef in 1995 in order to extend the facility and reclaim the land.

In the South China Sea, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, China, and Vietnam all have conflicting territorial claims. China’s notorious “nine-dash thread,” says almost the entire shore. In 2016, the Philippines won a historic arbitration case that explained its territorial rights in the face of conflicting Chinese claims.

The Philippines’ president is in an uncomfortable position as a result of China’s maritime assertiveness. A call for comment on Duterte’s meeting was not returned by China’s embassy in Manila. The vessels at Whitsun Reef, it was confirmed on Wednesday, were fishing boats seeking shelter from rough seas. Vietnam claims that Chinese warships off the coast of Da Ba Dau infringed on its sovereignty. On Thursday, a Vietnamese coastguard vessel was spotted moored near the contested location.

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