'Welcome to CHINA!' Chiara Zambrano Receives Text As She Flies Over Philippine Reefs


ABS-CBN journalist and reporter Chiara Zambrano was visiting the West Philippine Sea when an automated text blast was sent to her phone. 

“Welcome to CHINA!” it read. 

“Your well-being matters to us. As you travel abroad during this time, we want to make sure you are fully secure and connected. As such, we have made data roaming even more accessible through our wide range of roam surf offers.”

The text message was received as Zambrano was flying over Calderon Reef (aka Cuarteron), Johnson Reef (close to Julian Felipe), and Mischief Reef (close to Ayungin Shoal), which are all in the West Philippine Sea. The reefs have been militarized by China since 2015. 

“I’ve flown over some of the artificial islands of China when they were still being built. So see them now, completed, is both chilling and sobering,” wrote Zambrano on her Facebook page. 

Why China Sends Text Messages in the West Philippine Sea

The simple act of sending text messages through Philippine airwaves from the Chinese government may sound innocent, but it is a clever move aimed at chipping away at the legitimate claim the Philippines has over the West Philippine Sea.


To China, sending text messages over the West Philippine Sea legitimizes its alleged ownership of the area. It proves it has control not only over the airspace and waterspace, but also over the airwaves claimed by the Philippines. 

This is just one of the ways China is normalizing its presence in the West Philippine Sea, in the hope that, over time, the international community would accept it. 

In December 2020, Chinese ambassador Huang Xilian reiterated China does not recognize the 2016 victory of the Philippines at the international arbitral court. 

“In 2016, our two presidents reached an important consensus on properly handling the arbitration case, which served as an important foundation for the turnaround of the bilateral relations. China's position on the arbitration case is consistent and clear. We will not accept and participate in the arbitration, nor will accept or recognize the so-called ruling,” Huang said.

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