Philippine Ambassador to Beijing Jose Santiago Sta. Romana expects the situation at the Julian Felipe Reef to improve soon but declined to give a time frame when the Chinese fishing vessels would leave the area.
“I don’t want to give a time frame because this is the subject of diplomatic exchange, it’s confidential, but I expect it, in the coming month we’ll see an improvement on the situation,” he told the Laging Handa briefing on Saturday.
Despite this, Sta. Romana said the country must remain vigilant and closely monitor movements on the ground.
“I look at this as a situation that we should be concerned with but we don’t have to panic about and we should just exercise a high degree of vigilance, a high degree of monitoring, and see what happens on the ground,” he said.
Chinese authorities and officials from the Philippine government have been in talks following the unauthorized presence of some 200 China-flagged vessels in the reef – about 175 nautical miles off Palawan.
Sta. Romana said the Chinese side assured this will not be a “permanent situation” and that the ships were only “seeking shelter from bad weather.”
“We don’t want them there permanently or witness occupation or reclamation there. That’s what we’re trying to avoid and we got the clarification from our discussion because from our point of view this is part of our exclusive economic zone,” he added in Filipino.
The envoy likened the swarming to a 2019 incident when over a hundred Chinese vessels also amassed near the Philippine-occupied Pagasa Island and eventually left after diplomatic exchanges and a meeting between President Rodrigo Duterte and President Xi Jinping.
Sta. Romana believes the present issue could also be resolved with “an abundance of diplomacy.”
“Given the friendly relations between the Philippines and China and their assurance that this is not a permanent situation, that is what we expect,” he said.
Foreign nations such as the United States, Japan, Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, France, Germany as well as the European Union aired concern over the current situation in the region.
France and Germany, the latest among those who issued a statement, called on parties “to refrain from measures which endanger peace, stability, and security” in the Indo-Pacific.