After Magdalo Representative Gary Alejano revealed on August 15 that China has been massing up navy and coast guard vessels, maritime militia, and fishing boats near Pag-asa Island – Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) released satellite images confirming presence of Chinese vessels.
“I received information from my sources in the military, stating that since 3 days ago, China has deployed 2 frigates, 1 Coast Guard vessel, and 2 large fishing vessels, with their maritime militia, 1-3 nautical miles north of Pag-asa Island,” Alejano said.
AMTI said on August 12 “there were nine Chinese fishing ships and two naval/law enforcement vessels visible near Thitu (locations 1 and 2), with others possibly under cloud cover.”
“It is impossible to know if any of those ships might be affiliated with the maritime militia, but at least two appear to be actively fishing (locations 6 and 8), with their nets visibly in the water,” AMTI added.
“There also appears to be a Philippine fishing boat docked at the nearest of the unoccupied sandbars (location 12), possibly sent out from Thitu to investigate the Chinese presence,” it added.
“Setting aside whether Chinese ships legally can fish within 1 nautical mile of Thitu Island, there is no doubt that doing so is highly provocative and runs counter to the narrative of a stable mutually-beneficial new status quo that Beijing has sought to project,” AMTI added.
“One possible explanation for the flotilla’s sudden and provocative appearance is that Beijing wanted to dissuade Manila from planned construction on Thitu,” AMTI said.
“Those upgrades have been delayed, reportedly due to inclement weather, but Lorenzana has made clear that they remain in the pipeline. In light of this week’s events, Manila might feel that those upgrades are even more urgent,” it added.