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 Monday’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.
Chinese diplomats have said the boats were just sheltering from rough seas and no militia were aboard.
Sobejana’s trip to Thitu, known to Filipinos as Pagasa, happened on Monday, but information was only made public by the AFP on Wednesday.