A Philippine naval ship, two Chinese vessels and at least eight fishing boats are in a standoff near a shoal in the South China Sea that the Philippines says is well within its territory. However, China says the fishermen are in its sovereign waters. Both sides say they are trying to come to a diplomatic solution.
Illegal poaching discovered
The Philippine Navy says in recent days its patrol ship discovered illegal poaching by Chinese fishermen in waters off of Scarborough shoal, 230 kilometers west Zambales, Philippines. The country argues that is well within the 370 kilometer exclusive economic zone designated by international law.
The head of the navy says officers went on board eight boats and found coral, large clams and live sharks which are listed as endangered by the Philippines. He says they were not able to arrest the fishermen because two Chinese government boats arrived and positioned themselves between the fishing boats and the Philippine patrol ship.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario summoned China’s ambassador and says he reiterated the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which states a country has sovereignty over waters that are 370 kilometers from its coastline. He says their first round of talks hit an impasse. “I mentioned that, if the Philippines is challenged, we are prepared to secure our sovereignty,” he said.
China claims sovereignty over practically the entire South China Sea, based on a centuries old map. Apart from the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have partial or entire claims in the sea, which has abundant waters, potential vast reserves of oil and natural gas and some of the most highly traveled sea lanes.
In the past year, the Philippines has complained of numerous run-ins with China on the South China Sea. China maintains its historical claim.
China says law enforcement activities a violation
A spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Liu Weimin, told a briefing Wednesday that China has “launched solemn representations” with the Philippines about the incident on the shoal locally named Huangyan.
He says the attempt by the Philippines to carry out the so-called law enforcement activities in waters off of Huangyan Island is in violation of Chinese sovereignty as well as the consensus between the two countries to maintain peace and stability of the South China Sea.
In a statement, the Chinese ambassador’s office urged the Philippines to stop what it called illegal activities by the Navy and demanded its ship to leave the area.
The U.S.-built Gregorio Del Pilar, positioned at the mouth of the lagoon, continues to pen-in the two Chinese government ships and the fishing boats. The navy says nothing has been taken off the boats. Meanwhile, the Philippine Coast Guard says it will deploy a patrol boat to keep watch over the Naval ship, which is the Philippines one and only warship.
Del Rosario says he is confident the situation will not escalate into armed conflict. He pointed out the solid economic partnership the Philippines has with China and both countries’ commitment to building friendly relations.
Three weeks ago the Philippines launched a two-year cultural exchange with China that is intended to help solidify friendly relations between the two countries. Beijing’s own launch was Wednesday.