WHAT the Philippines calls the Julian Felipe Reef within the West Philippine Sea (WPS) is the Niu’e Jiao, a part of the Nansha Qundao or Spratly Islands, to China.

The Chinese Embassy in the Philippines said Chinese fishing vessels have been fishing in the area and taking shelter near the Niu’e Jiao.

The ships spotted there recently were not manned by the Chinese maritime militia, it said.

“The Chinese Embassy has taken note of the recent statement and remarks of the Philippine side on the presence of alleged Chinese Maritime Militia Vessels at Niu’e Jiao,” it said in a statement on Monday, March 22, 2021.

“Niu’e Jiao is a part of China’s Nansha Qundao. Chinese fishing vessels have been fishing in its adjacent waters for many years. Recently, some Chinese fishing vessels take shelter near Niu’e Jiao due to rough sea conditions,” it added.

The Chinese Embassy issued the statement after Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said he had fired off a diplomatic protest with China.

The embassy said it has been a “normal practice” for Chinese fishing vessels to take shelter in the area.

“There is no Chinese maritime militia as alleged. Any speculation in such helps nothing but causes unnecessary irritation. It is hoped that the situation could be handled in an objective and rational manner,” it said.

The Nansha Qundao is the name given by the China to the Spratlys, a group of more than 100 islets that are the subject of a territorial dispute between China and some Southeast Asian nations, including the Philippines.

The National Task Force for WPS earlier raised concerns of overfishing and destruction of the marine environment after over 200 Chinese vessels were spotted in line formation at the Julian Felipe Reef on March 7.

As of March 22, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff Cirilito Sobejana said 183 vessels believed to be from the Chinese maritime militia were still anchored near the reef.

The NTF-WPS said the Julian Felipe Reef is a large boomerang shaped shallow coral reef at the northeast of Pagkakaisa Banks and Reefs (Union Reefs), located approximately 175 nautical miles west of Bataraza, Palawan.

It is within the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and Continental Shelf (CS), over which the country enjoys the exclusive right to exploit or conserve any resources which encompass both living resources, such as fish, and non-living resources such as oil and natural gas. (Third Anne Peralta-Malonzo / SunStar Philippines)