The Philippines has called on China to withdraw a massive fleet of ships it accuses of encroaching upon its territorial waters in the South China Sea.
Defence Minister Delfin Lorenzana said the Chinese ships were violating the Philippines’ maritime rights.
Manila says the “fishing boats” do not appear to be fishing and are crewed by China’s maritime militia.
The 220 Chinese vessels were moored at the Julian Felipe Reef, also called Whitsun Reef, in Manila’s exclusive economic zone, Philippine authorities said.
“Despite clear weather at the time, the Chinese vessels massed at the reef showed no actual fishing activities and had their full white lights turned on during nighttime.”
The reef lies within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, the country’s cross-government task force said on Saturday.
“We call on the Chinese to stop this incursion and immediately recall these boats violating our maritime rights and encroaching into our sovereign territory,” Lorenzana said.
He accused the Chinese of a “provocative action of militarising the area”.
Five years ago, an international court rejected Chinese claims of sovereignty over 90% of the South China Sea water mass, but Beijing does not recognise the ruling.
The Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Vietnam have all been contesting China’s claim for decades, but tension has steadily increased in recent years.
Beijing continues to claim an area known as the “nine-dash line” and has backed its claim with island-building and patrols, expanding its military presence while maintaining that its intentions are peaceful.
China denies reports that it uses fishing fleets to help assert its territorial claims.
Two years ago, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte defended his non-confrontational approach to the maritime dispute with a quip about Chinese President Xi Jinping.
“When Xi says ‘I will fish’ who can prevent him?” he said. “If I send my marines to drive away the Chinese fishermen, I guarantee you not one of them will come home alive.”