Tue. Mar 2nd, 2021

Despite the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic, China has not stopped the deployment of its coast guard ships “around symbolically important features” in the South China Sea, including within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ) like Panatag (Scarborough) and Ayungin (Second Thomas) shoals.

Based on data analysis from automatic identification systems (AIS), which track vessel position at sea, from the website MarineTraffic, it looks like China has an intent in making its presence felt in the area and those reefs, according to Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) of the US think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The AIS is a real-time tracking system transmitting a ship’s location, making its presence known.

Data showed that from Dec. 1, 2019 to Nov. 30, 2020, the China Coast Guard not only kept a “persistent presence” in Ayungin Shoal, Panatag Shoal and Luconia Shoal, but it looked like they “increased the frequency of patrols” during the Covid-19 pandemic, AMTI said.

And for 287 of the last 366 days, at least one and often two China Coast Guard (CCG) ships made broadcasts from Panatag Shoal. On the other hand, there were 162 days recorded in 2019 where CCG ships made broadcasts from the said areas, according to AMTI.

“That CCG vessels so frequently broadcast AIS from these reefs, which are not physically occupied by China, suggests that they want to be seen signalling China’s claims,” AMTI said. SOVEREIGNPH

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