Philippine ships en route to reef claimed by Beijing

Filipino fishermen headed to a reef claimed by China on Wednesday, despite a warning from Beijing, in a bid to assert their rights to the disputed sea lane.

The Scarborough Reef, located in the South China Sea, is claimed by Beijing, Taiwan, and the Philippines.

Waving small Filipino flags and chanting “The Philippines is ours, China out!” “, around 200 people boarded five commercial fishing vessels that left a port in the northern Philippines in the morning, escorted by several sailboats.

Three Chinese coast guard ships began following the convoy after dark as it approached the reef, broadcasting warnings over the boats’ radios, a spokesman for Atin Ito, the fishing convoy, said. to the press. This is their second trip to this disputed sea route.

A few hours earlier, in Beijing, the spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Wang Wenbin, had affirmed China’s “indisputable sovereignty” over the reef and warned Manila against any action undermining this position.

Atin Ito’s convoy distributed fuel and provisions to fishermen encountered on the route and released a dozen buoys bearing the inscription “The West Philippine Sea is Ours.”

“This is so the Chinese can see that we Filipinos are united in our desire to take back the Scarborough Reef,” Luis Pontillas, a fisherman, told AFP.

This operation by Filipino fishermen comes two weeks after Chinese ships fired water cannons on two Philippine government boats in the same area.

The fish-rich Scarborough Reef is located 240 kilometers from the Philippine island of Luzon, and 900 kilometers from Hainan, China.

The shoal has been a tinderbox since Beijing took it over from Manila in 2012.

Beijing claims almost the entire South China Sea, brushing aside claims by the Philippines and other countries, and ignoring an international ruling that its claim has no legal basis.

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