Beijing yesterday warned Manila not to “stir up trouble” after the Philippine Coast Guard said it removed a floating barrier at a disputed reef that was allegedly deployed by China to block Filipino fishers from the area.
Scarborough Shoal (Huangyan Island, 黃岩島) in the South China Sea has long been a source of tension between the nations. China seized the ring of reefs from the Philippines in 2012 and has since deployed patrol boats.
The latest spat was sparked by a 300m floating barrier that was found across the entrance of the shoal last week during a routine Philippine government resupply mission to fishers plying the waters near the shoal.
The Philippines condemned the installation and its coast guard announced on Monday that it had “successfully” removed the barrier from the reef, which Manila calls Bajo de Masinloc, in a special operation ordered by Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.
The Philippine Coast Guard yesterday said that it had cut a rope tethering the buoys to an anchor on the seabed, and hauled away the anchor, which allowed the line to drift.
Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Wang Wenbin (汪文斌) hit back yesterday, saying that Beijing “firmly upholds the sovereignty and maritime rights and interests of the Huangyan Island.”
“We advise the Philippines not to provoke or stir up trouble,” Wang said.
Philippine National Security Adviser Eduardo Ano said his nation was “well within its rights” to remove any barrier at the reef.
China claims sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea, despite a 2016 international court ruling that its stance has no legal basis.
The shoal, which Taiwan also claims, is 240km west of the Philippines’ main island of Luzon and nearly 900km from the nearest major Chinese land mass of Hainan.
Under the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which China helped negotiate, nations have jurisdiction over the natural resources within about 200 nautical miles (370km) of their shore.
The Philippine Coast Guard on Monday 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.
After the rope was cut, the Chinese government removed the barrier, Jay Tarriela, Philippine Coast Guard spokesman for the West Philippine Sea, told reporters yesterday.
The floating barrier had 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 Philippine Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources resupply ship arrived at the shoal on Wednesday last week.
The Philippine Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Monday said that it would “take all appropriate measures to protect our country’s sovereignty and the livelihood of our fisherfolk,” without elaborating.
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