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Friday, May 24, 2024

The Scarborough Shoal — again

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Rather queasy indeed, to have to read again that a regular rotational deployment by a Philippine vessel of fuel to Filipino fishermen and patrol operations in Bajo de Masinloc has been blocked and “blinded” by the Chinese Coast Guard.

Bajo de Masinloc, 150 miles west of Luzon and nearly 559 miles from the nearest major Chinese island mass of Hainan, has been a flashpoint between the countries since China seized it from the Philippines in 2012.

Bajo de Masinloc, also known as Scarborough Shoal after a British ship grounded on the atoll nearly three centuries ago, is clearly within the Philippines’ 200-mile exclusive economic zone and continental shelf, even while China claims “historic right” in that it was discovered during the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368).

It is one of Asia’s most contested maritime features and a flashpoint for diplomatic flare-ups over sovereignty and fishing rights.

Interestingly, the Philippines has been exercising effective occupation and jurisdiction over the area, with maps produced in the Philippines, Europe and the United States identifying it as part of Philippine territory.

The Philippines exercises full sovereignty and jurisdiction over the rocks of Bajo de Masinloc, and sovereign rights over the waters and continental shelf where the rock features where the shoal is.

Bajo de Masinloc is in the middle of the South China Sea, claimed nearly in its entirety by China’s unilateral and mythical ‘nine-dash line’ and near shipping lanes carrying an estimated $3.4 trillion of annual ship commerce.

That position, according to diplomats, is strategic for Beijing, whose claims overlap with those of the Manila, Hanoi, Kuala Lumpur and Brunei Darussalam.

In 2016, an international arbitration tribunal in the Hague said China’s claims had no legal basis, a decision Beijing rejected.

The sovereign rights and jurisdiction asserted by the Philippines over the maritime entitlements of the features in Bajo de Masinloc are founded on principles of international law and consistent with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which both the Philippines and China have signed and ratified.

A lighthouse or watchtower was also established there in 1965 and renovated in 1992, without any protestation from China.

Last week, the Chinese Coast Guard said it drove away a vessel of the Philippines’ Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources and accused them of “illegally intruding” into its waters near Scarborough Shoal.

We agree with Commodore Jay Tarriela, the Philippine Coast Guard’s spokesperson on South China Sea issues, who said: “This statement is inaccurate. The BFAR vessel, BRP Datu Sanday, continues to patrol the waters of Bajo De Masinloc. Currently, the BFAR vessel is actively ensuring the security of Filipino fishermen in that area.”

Tarriela said it was not the first time the Chinese Coast Guard blocked a Philippine vessel’s Automatic Identification System, a short-range coastal tracking system used on ships to provide identification and positioning information to both vessels and shore stations.

In the meantime, the browbeater continues its nauseous act. And the world appears helpless.


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