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Chinese ‘swarm’ still in Mischief

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Analyst: China ships down to 19 from 32 during water-cannon incident at Ayungin

A former US Air Force colonel and a security analyst said he is tracking 19 Chinese militia ships swarming the waters off Mischief Reef and Ayungin Shoal in the West Philippine Sea.

Raymond Powell, director of SeaLight at the Gordian Knot Center for National Security Innovation, said this number was down from a high of 32 during the Aug. 5 resupply mission that was thwarted by Chinese ships that fired water cannons at Philippine boats.

“Actually there were probably even more than 32, as indicated in this satellite photo of Mischief Reef from Aug. 4, where you can see many smaller vessels ‘rafted’ together and probably not broadcasting on AIS [Automatic Information System],” he said in an email to the Manila Standard.

ANATOMY OF A SWARM. In these images on his personal X/Twitter account and website, security analyst Ray Powell explains how around 32 Chinese Coast Guard and militia ships were seen at Ayungin Shoal before they swarmed the Philippine resupply mission to BRP Sierra Madre last Aug. 5. Powell told Manila Standard only 19 ships remain in this area of the West Philippine Sea, as some have returned to port in Hainan, China.

The SeaLight director also said that he noted three departures of Chinese Coast Guard vessels back to Hainan Island, where ships involved in the Aug. 5 incident may have originated.

He said three of the ships involved in the Aug.5 incident have gone dark by turning off their AIS transponders, but may still be in the area.

Powell, in his post at the SeaLight, said that the resupply mission blockade had been planned.

“The China Coast Guard’s 5 August water-cannon assault on the Philippines’ resupply mission didn’t just happen. Things didn’t just get out of hand,” he said.

The SeaLight director also noted that China has allowed their forces back to Hainan, and the Chinese presence is now less than it was in the region.

“This seems to have been a temporary surge specifically to contest the last resupply, and since that date, they have allowed some of these forces to recover back to Hainan Island, so their presence now is less than it was,” he said.

SeaLight says they use commercially available technology to shed light on the maritime “gray zone”—that is, things that happen at sea that someone would rather the public not know about.

“Common gray-zone activities we track and report include: Harassment of legal activities such as responsible fishing, security operations or hydrocarbon exploration within a nation’s own exclusive economic zone, Illegal incursions into other countries’ waters, intimidation measures such as vessel swarming, outpost and artificial island building and Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing,” the website said.

Meanwhile, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Friday that the Philippines does not recognize China’s annual ban on fishing in some parts of the disputed West Philippine Sea.

In a statement, the DFA stressed the fishing ban imposed by China from May 1 to Aug. 16 has been the subject of the country’s diplomatic protests.

“We will continue to register our formal opposition to it. It is an illegal exercise of state authority insofar as they cover the Philippines’ maritime zones,” the department said.

China has imposed the ban each year since 1999.

The Philippines has been calling on China to take active measures at its ports to prevent its fishing fleets from entering the country’s territorial sea and exclusive economic zone.

“The Philippines is ready to take law enforcement measures on illegal fishing activities in its waters,” DFA said.

In 2013, the Philippines challenged China’s legal basis for its vast claim in the South China Sea before the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, Netherlands.

The Philippines won the case in a landmark arbitral ruling in 2016 after the tribunal invalidated China’s massive claims over the South China Sea.

However, Beijing continues to defy the PCA’s arbitral ruling.

Also on Friday, the Presidential Communications Office said President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese will meet in the Philippines to discuss defense and maritime affairs on Sept. 7 and 8.

In a statement, PCO said that the President is pleased to welcome the Australian Prime Minister to the country as the Philippines and Australia share a “rich history of friendship and collaboration.”

The PCO said Mr. Marcos and Albanese are expected to discuss key issues in their partnership, particularly in key sectors such as defense and security, trade, economic development, and maritime affairs.

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