THERE AND BACK AGAIN: CHINESE MILITIA AT IROQUOIS REEF AND UNION BANKS
22 October 2021
On September 30, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. instructed the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs to file three new protests with China over recent actions in the South China Sea, including the “continued presence of Chinese fishing vessels in [the] vicinity of Iroquois Reef.”
An examination of satellite imagery reveals that Chinese militia vessels began gathering at Iroquois in April, just after the dispersal of the nearly 200 vessels that had been gathered at Whitsun Reef within the Union Banks earlier in 2021. Recent imagery shows that the number of ships at Iroquois has fallen since the Philippine protest, but it also suggests that many of those vessels likely headed back to Union Banks, where numbers are now reaching the levels seen in March. This is evidence of the Chinese militia’s shell game in the Spratly Islands. When international outcry or patrols by other claimants convince them to leave a disputed feature, they disperse to nearby reefs for a time. But their overall numbers in the Spratlys remain consistent.