A Chinese coastguard ship last month used a water cannon to drive Philippine fishermen out of disputed waters in the South China Sea in an aggressive enforcement of China’s new territorial rules, the head of the Philippine military said yesterday.
Since the beginning of this year, Beijing has required foreign fishing boats to get approval before entering waters it claims as its own.
“The Chinese coastguard tried to drive away fishermen to the extent of using water cannon,” Philippine Armed Forces Chief of Staff General Emmanuel Bautista told reporters, referring to a Jan. 27 incident near the Scarborough Shoal.
The Scarborough Shoal is known as Huangyan Island (黃岩島) in Taiwan and China, which, like Manila, also claim the shoal.
China claims about 90 percent of the South China Sea’s 3.5 million square kilometers. The sea provides 10 percent of the world’s total fish catch, carries US$5 trillion in ship-borne trade a year and is believed to be rich in energy.
Taiwan, Malaysia, Philippines, Brunei and Vietnam also claim various parts of the sea.
Bautista declined to give more details about the confrontation in the area, about 130 nautical miles (240km) west of the Philippine island of Luzon, saying the military still had to talk to the fishermen.
He said the Philippine military would try to avoid confrontation with China, but would react if Beijing uses violence against Filipinos.
Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Hua Chunying (華春瑩) said she was not aware of details of the situation and repeated that Beijing has sovereignty over the South China Sea and its islands.
“The relevant Chinese maritime forces carry out normal official patrols in that area,” she told a daily news briefing.
At the same briefing, Hua also said Beijing will never recognize the US’ appointment of a special coordinator for Tibetan issues.
“The Chinese government resolutely opposes any foreign country using the so-called Tibet problem to interfere in China’s internal affairs. China has never and will never recognize the US’ so-called special envoy for the Tibet problem,” she added.
US President Barack Obama held low-key talks with the Dalai Lama on Friday, prompting condemnation from Beijing and a warning that meeting the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader would damage bilateral ties.
Washington urged Beijing on Friday to resume dialogue with the Dalai Lama. To encourage those talks, US Secretary of State John Kerry named one of his officials, Sarah Sewall, as the US’ special coordinator for Tibetan Issues.