Philippine military chief visits island in disputed waters

  • The head of the Philippine armed forces visited a coral-fringed island his country occupies in the South China Sea this week, a move that could stoke already heightened tensions between Manila and Beijing in disputed waters claimed by both countries.
  • During 7 Jun 21’s visit, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief Cirilito Sobejana commended the soldiers for the role they played in protecting the island’s residents and “guarding the country’s territories” in the strategic waterway.
  • The visit comes after recent diplomatic protests made by the Philippines over what it says is the illegal presence of hundreds of “Chinese maritime militia” vessels inside its exclusive economic zone and near its occupied islands.
  • Sobejana’s trip to Thitu, known to Filipinos as Pagasa, happened on 7 Jun 21, but information was only made public by the AFP on 9 Jun 21.
  • Thitu is the biggest of the nine reefs, shoals and islands the Philippines occupies in the Spratly archipelago, and is home to a small number of military personnel and civilians.
  • “(The troops) are in very high spirit, their level of moral is high especially after our visit,” Sobejana told reporters on 8 Jun 21 evening, adding he also wanted to inspect the island to oversee plans to convert it into a logistics hub to make it easier for naval assets conducting patrols to refuel.
  • The move comes as the foreign ministers of Southeast Asia and China agreed during a meeting on 7 Jun 21 to exercise restraint in the South China Sea and avoid actions that could escalate tensions.

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