The Philippines and China yesterday traded fresh accusations of illegal incursions in a disputed area of the South China Sea, while refusing to compromise on their territorial claims.
The Philippines said it had lodged a new diplomatic protest, accusing Chinese vessels of harassing a Filipino-flagged archeological research ship at Scarborough Shoal.
The shoal is the same area where Chinese vessels last week blocked a Filipino warship from arresting the crews of eight Chinese fishing boats.
Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez said the M/Y Saranggani was “harassed by Chinese ships and aircraft” at Scarborough, 124 nautical miles (220.6km) from the Philippines’ main island, Luzon.
China insists it has sovereign rights to all of the South China Sea. The Philippines says that, based on international law, it has sovereign rights over areas of the sea within its 200 nautical miles exclusive economic zone.
Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei nad Vietnam also have overlapping claims to parts of the China Sea.
“We lodged the protest yesterday afternoon. The harassment of the vessel is part of the continued intrusion and illegal activities being done by China in our area,” Hernandez said.
He said Saranggani was manned by scientists, including nine French nationals.
The Philippines provided no other details about their research and when they specifically arrived in the area, but Hernandez said the boat was still there.
“It is doing research, which is well within our rights,” he said.
In return, Zhang Hua (張華), spokesman for the Chinese embassy in Manila, insisted China owned Scarborough, and accused the Saranggani of intrusion.
“We urge the archeological vessel leave the area immediately,” Chang said in a statement.
The latest flare-up occurred on April 8, when the Philippines found the eight Chinese fishing boats at Scarborough Shoal, and sent its warship to arrest the crew.
China quickly deployed three civilian maritime vessels that took turns in blocking the warship. In a bid to calm the situation, the Philippines pulled back its warship and replaced it with a coast guard vessel late last week, and the fishing vessels sailed away over the weekend.