Satellite imagery shows Chinese vessels anchored at the Whitsun Reef. Credit: AFP/©2021 Maxar Technologies

The message from Manila was clear — remove the Chinese flotilla from disputed waters in the South China Sea … now.

According to a Reuters report, the Philippine military is sending light fighter aircraft to fly over what it has described as a “swarming and threatening presence” of more than 200 Chinese vessels that Manila believes are being manned by maritime militia.

A bizarre show of force in line with Xi Jinping’s “Wolf Warrior” diplomacy, which is driving China further away from its trading partners.

The boats were moored at the Whitsun Reef within Manila’s 200-mile exclusive economic zone, Reuters reported.

The Philippine military aircraft were sent daily to monitor the situation, Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said.

Philippine navy and coast guard ships have also been deployed to the area to monitor the situation, in addition to the aerial patrols, he said.

“We are ready to defend our national sovereignty and protect the marine resources of the Philippines,” Lorenzana said, repeating a call for the Chinese ships to withdraw.

He added there will be an “increased presence” of navy and coast guard ships patrolling Philippine waters.

The resource-rich South China Sea is contested by several countries, including the Philippines and China.

A Philippine Air Force FA-50 fighter jet prepares for takeoff at Clark Air Base. Credit: Handout.

The Chinese Embassy in Manila did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

It has said the vessels at Whitsun Reef were fishing boats taking refuge from rough seas — an explanation that appears to ring somewhat hollow, if not comical.

They also insisted that there were no militia aboard, Reuters reported.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte reaffirmed to China’s ambassador, Huang Xilian, the Philippines had won a landmark arbitration case in 2016, which made clear its sovereign entitlements amid rival claims by China, his spokesman said last week.

Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, China and Vietnam have competing territorial claims in the South China Sea, through which at least US$3.4 trillion of annual trade passes.

— with files from Agence France-Presse