Philippines says it spotted Chinese naval ship near disputed island

Thitu Island in the South China Sea.
(Image credit: The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images)

The Philippines said Saturday that it had spotted a Chinese naval ship off the coast of a Philippine-occupied island in the South China Sea.

The Philippine Coast Guard confirmed the presence of "a People's Liberation Army Navy vessel," along with a Chinese Coast Guard ship, off the coast of Thitu Island. In addition, Philippine officials said that they identified at least 42 vessels that were reportedly operated by Chinese militia officers.

Reuters reported that Thitu is "Manila's biggest and most strategically important outpost in the South China Sea." The sea has been largely under a series of political clashes in recent years, with China claiming — over the objections of several Asian countries — that it controls the water's territories.

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It is unclear what the Chinese ships were doing in the area, or if they were conducting a military operation. Tensions between the Philippines and China have been increasing in recent months. This came to a head in mid-February, when the Philippine Coast Guard accused the Chinese Coast Guard of pointing a military-grade laser at its crew, temporarily blinding them.

The alleged incident occurred in the same chain of islands as Thitu, CNN reported, with Chinese officials claiming the vessel "defended China's sovereignty and maritime order" after the Philippine ship encroached on its territory. The exact details of the incident are still disputed.

As tensions flare, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. previously said that his country "will not lose an inch" of territory to China. Marcos added that China's actions "do not conform to our ideals of peace" and would "threaten the security and stability of the country, of the region, and of the world."

"We will continue to uphold our territorial integrity and sovereignty in accordance with our constitution and with international law," Marcos said.

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