Philippines establishes coast guard outposts in disputed sea
The Philippines has established three coast guard outposts on three islands in the disputed South China Sea to monitor ship movements and promote safety, coast guard officials said on Friday, amid increasing maritime tensions with China.
The move reinforced the presence of Filipino troops on the islands in the hotly contested Spratly archipelago and will likely be frowned upon by Beijing, which has claimed the disputed waterway virtually in its entirety.
China has protested any new constructions in the region although it has transformed seven disputed reefs into military-guarded island bases in past years, alarming rival claimant states and the US, which has no territorial claims but deploys its Navy and Air Force for patrols to ensure freedom of navigation and overflight in the contested waters.
Coast guard Admiral Artemio Abu said the outposts on the islands, which were established this week, would be manned by coast guard personnel and equipped with radio communications that could report any incident to the coast guard headquarters in Manila.
Abu did not specify how many personnel would be stationed at the new outposts but said it's the largest deployment of coast guard personnel in the disputed region so far.
"Through these command observation posts, we improve our capabilities in promoting maritime safety, maritime search and rescue, and marine environmental protection," Abu said in a statement.
Last week the coast guard installed five navigational buoys carrying Philippine flags just off the three islands and near Thitu island, the largest of nine islands and islets Filipino forces have occupied in the Spratlys.
The "sovereign markers" flashlights at night to guide fishermen and ships and "communicate that the said vicinity waters are considered special protected zones" where mining and oil exploration is prohibited to preserve their rich natural resources, Abu said without elaborating.
China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which includes four member states involved in the territorial disputes, have resumed talks this year on a proposed "Code of Conduct" or a nonaggression pact aimed at preventing armed confrontations in the region.
But the negotiations have faced years of delay, partly due to the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020.
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