Philippine fishermen threw fire bombs at Chinese law enforcement vessels in the South China Sea, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Tuesday, after Philippine media reported that fishermen had been struck by bottles hurled from China’s coast guard ships.
The reports said that a clash occurred at Scarborough Shoal (Huangyan Island, 黃岩島), an area China seized control of after a three-month standoff with the Philippine coast guard in 2012. The reports said Chinese coast guardsmen hurled bottles at the Philippine fishermen, who responded with rocks.
Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Hua Chunying (華春瑩) said Scarborough Shoal is Chinese territory, which Philippine fishermen had been fishing around illegally.
“Chinese official ships advised the illegally stationed Philippine trawlers to leave, in accordance with the law, but they refused to obey,” Hua told a daily news briefing.
“Certain people on the ships even waved around machetes and flung fire bombs, carrying out deliberate provocation, attacking the Chinese law enforcers and official boat, confronting China’s law enforcement and seriously threatening the safety and order of the waters around Huangyan Island,” Hua said.
China has strengthened its “management” around the shoal, she added, without elaborating.
A Philippine Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman declined to comment, pending an official report “from our concerned agencies.”
China and the Philippines have long exchanged accusations about each other’s behavior in the disputed South China Sea.
China claims most of the energy-rich waters through which about US$5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam also have rival claims to all or portions of the region.
US Department of Defense spokesman Commander Bill Urban said Chinese coast guard vessels had since 2012 sought to block fishing access to the area, “restricting the longstanding commercial practices of others.”
“We are concerned that such actions exacerbate tensions in the region and are counterproductive,” Urban said.
He said that the US, which is a treaty ally of the Philippines, wanted to see claims resolved peacefully in accordance with international law or arbitration.
The US Navy last week said it had seen activity near Scarborough Shoal that could be a precursor to more Chinese land reclamation, which China has conducted on a large scale elsewhere in the South China Sea to back its territorial claims.
US Navy chief Admiral John Richardson said that a ruling expected in late May or early June in a case the Philippines has brought against China over its claims in the International Court of Arbitration in The Hague could prompt Beijing to declare a South China Sea exclusion zone.
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