Philippines' Foreign Minister Teodoro Locsin makes the opening remarks at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) China Ministerial Meeting in Bangkok on July 31, 2019. Image Credit: AFP

Manila: Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin confirmed that the Philippines had already filed a diplomatic protest with China over the unusually high number of Chinese vessels in the disputed Pag-asa Island in the South China Sea.

“Diplomatic protest fired off,” Locsin said in a tweet on Wednesday as he referred to the recommendations made by the Department of National Defence (DND) and National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon to take diplomatic action on the alarming presence of Chinese vessels in Pag-asa, an island in the Spratlys chain which is being claimed by the Philippines and China as part of their territory.

Pag-asa is located some 200 nautical miles from western Philippines’ Palawan and the biggest Philippines held island in the chain, Kalayaan, has a functioning local government administered by an elected Filipino mayor.

In recent weeks, the Philippine Navy had reported that there had been an increasing number of sea crafts loitering or anchored near Kalayaan. As of last count by the military, there were 113 Chinese fishing vessels in the Pag-asa chain in general.

Esperon said based on the information they are getting, the increasing number of Chinese ships could be a strategy by China to deploy an overwhelming number of ships around Kalayaan and Pag-asa.

He said the Chinese ships could potentially block seaborne resupply to Kalayaan and Ayungin Shoal, a submerged feature in the Pag-asa chain where the Philippines maintains a garrison of marines.

According to a June 24 report by the Palawan News, there were 50 Chinese vessels in Pag-asa Island at that time. In June 5, there were only seven Chinese sea craft in the area.

China claims the entire Spratlys while the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam claim portions of the island chain.