Tells Manila ‘not to stir up trouble’ in Scarborough Shoal
Beijing warned Manila on Tuesday not to “stir up trouble” after the Philippine Coast Guard said it removed a floating barrier deployed by China to block Filipinos from their traditional fishing ground in Bajo de Masinloc.
“China firmly upholds the sovereignty and maritime rights and interests of the Huangyan island,” said foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin, referring to Bajo de Masinloc or Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal by its Chinese name.
“We advise the Philippines not to provoke or stir up trouble.”
China has refused to recognize a landmark 2016 ruling by the UN Permanent Court of Arbitration that its expansive claims to almost the entire South China Sea have no basis in law and that the shoal in question was part of the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.
The 300-meter floating barrier was found across the entrance of the shoal last week during a routine government resupply mission to Filipino fishermen plying the waters near the Chinese-controlled reef.
It was not clear from the Philippine statement if the entire barrier had been removed.
The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) released a video showing a man wearing snorkeling gear using a knife to sever a rope attached to white buoys, while another showed an anchor being hauled from the water into a wooden outrigger boat.
The coast guard announced it had “successfully” removed the barrier “in compliance with presidential instruction.”
China, which seized the disputed reef from the Philippines in 2012, deploys coast guard and other vessels to patrol the fishing ground.
The floating barrier prevented fishing boats from entering the shoal’s shallow waters where fish are more abundant.
Philippine officials previously accused the Chinese coast guard of installing the barrier before a Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) ship arrived at the shoal on Wednesday.
The reef sits 240 kilometers west of the Philippines’ main island of Luzon and nearly 900 kilometers from the nearest major Chinese land mass of Hainan.
Under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which China helped negotiate, countries have jurisdiction over the natural resources within about 200 nautical miles (370 kilometers) of their shore.
Beijing has ignored the 2016 international court ruling that its claims have no legal basis.
The Philippine foreign ministry said on Monday it would “take all appropriate measures to protect our country’s sovereignty and the livelihood of our fisherfolk,” without elaborating.
China on Monday justified the installation of floating barriers in the West Philippine Sea, which blocked Filipino fishermen from their fishing grounds, saying it did so because a Philippine government vessel entered into its territorial waters without its permission.
Wang Wenbin said Beijing took the action after a vessel of the BFAR “intruded into the adjacent waters” of Scarborough Shoal and “attempted to enter its lagoon” without permission from China.
China continues to claim a portion of the West Philippine Sea, including Panatag Shoal, which falls within the jurisdiction of the Philippines, based on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the 2016 arbitral ruling.
“Huangyan Dao has always been China’s territory. China has indisputable sovereignty over the island and its adjacent waters and sovereign rights and jurisdiction over relevant waters,” Wang said on Monday.
The Chinese official said their coast guard “did what was necessary to block and drive away the Philippine vessel,” adding that the steps taken “were professional and restrained.”
Meanwhile, Japan said it is closely monitoring “with concern” China’s activities in the South China Sea.
Tokyo strongly opposes actions that increase tensions in the South China Sea as issues surrounding the waters are connected to regional peace and stability, the Japanese Embassy in Manila quoted Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno as saying.
Japan said the issues “are a legitimate concern of the international community, including Tokyo.”
Despite the Chinese warning “not to stir up trouble,” the Philippine government is considering entering the waters inside the Bajo de Masinloc lagoon after it removed the floating barrier installed by China.
PCG spokesperson for the West Philippine Sea Commodore Jay Tarriela said the PCG will work with the BFAR and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) for this. With AFP
“The PCG together with the BFAR, and of course with the support of our AFP, through the intelligence cooperation that we have already established, we will be able to sustain this patrol with the end goal of once again allowing fishermen to be able to go inside the lagoon,” Tarriela said in an interview with the ANC news channel.
He added that the intention was to open the area to fishermen from different countries, including China and Vietnam, in line with the arbitral decision recognizing the shoal as a traditional fishing ground for many nations.
During the interview, Tarriela confirmed that it was possible for the Philippines to enter Scarborough Shoal and assert its rights over the area.
Tarriela said that the Philippines was able to anchor 300 meters close to Scarborough Shoal for the first time since 2012.
After the 2012 standoff between the Philippine and China in Scarborough Shoal, Tarriela said Chinese vessels guarded the lagoon and Filipino ships and fishing boats could not enter the area.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo justified the removal of China’s floating barrier in Scarborough Shoal, saying it is consistent with the Philippines’ position on the West Philippine Sea.
“Technically, since we have a right to practice our sovereignty and our sovereign rights, so it would have been consistent with our position, but we’re still waiting for the full report [on its removal],” Manalo said, in an interview.
Asked to comment on proposals to file a case against China before the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS), Manalo said the Department of Foreign Affairs would need to study the procedures.
In a statement, the DFA said the shoal was “an integral part of the Philippines over which we have sovereignty and territorial jurisdiction” according to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which extends the territorial jurisdiction of maritime states up to 200 nautical miles from its coasts. It is signed by at least 162 nations, including the Philippines and China.
Also on Tuesday, Senator Ronald Dela Rosa on Tuesday said if he were the Secretary of Foreign Affairs, he would invite the Chinese ambassador to drinks and get him drunk.
“I will call the ambassador and say, ‘Come here, I’ll get you drunk,’’’ said Dela Rosa, who said he was sick and tired of filing diplomatic protests against China’s intrusions on the West Philippine Sea.
In the Senate hearing on the proposed P23.9 billion budget of the DFA for 2024, Dela Rosa told Manalo to find a way to get information from them.
He told Manalo to “deviate a little” if he sees that all formal protests filed against China are not making the situation better. With AFP