China’s “nine-dash line” used to claim most of the South China Sea is a fabrication, the Philippine secretary of national defense said, as he accused Beijing of illegally occupying Philippine maritime territory.
The remarks late on Sunday come amid a fresh row between Manila and Beijing over the disputed Scarborough Shoal (Huangyan Island, 黃岩島), which has long been a flashpoint between the two countries and is also claimed by Taiwan.
The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs last week lodged a diplomatic protest over what it said was the “illegal confiscation” by China’s coast guard of fishing equipment near the shoal.
China seized Scarborough from the Philippines in 2012 following a tense standoff.
The shoal, one of the region’s richest fishing grounds, is located 240km west of the Philippines’ main island of Luzon and 650km from the nearest major Chinese land mass.
“That area is within our EEZ [exclusive economic zone],” Philippine Secretary of National Defense Delfin Lorenzana told reporters in a text message. China’s “so-called historical rights over an area enclosed by their 9-line doesn’t exist except in their imaginations.”
“Our fishermen are within our EEZ and likewise our ships and planes conduct patrol sorties within our area,” he said.
“They [China] are the ones who have been doing provocations by illegally occupying some features within our EEZ. Hence they have no right to claim they are enforcing their laws,” he added.
Beijing claims the majority of the sea, often invoking its so-called nine-dash line to justify its alleged historic rights to the key waterway, which is also contested by Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei.
China rejected a 2016 UN-backed tribunal’s ruling that its claims were without legal basis.
The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Friday defended the coast guard, saying they had carried out law enforcement activities and “their actions are understandable.”
It also accused Philippine military aircraft of invading Chinese airspace in another disputed section of the sea and urged Manila to “immediately stop illegal provocative activities.”
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesman has played down the spat, which comes as the COVID-19-ravaged country seeks to secure a vaccine from China.
“Our diplomats routinely lodge protests like that if we believe our sovereign rights are violated,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque said on Friday. “But it will not affect the overall good relations between our country and China.”
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