The Philippine foreign ministry says it has summoned a top Chinese diplomat in Manila over allegations that a Chinese surveillance ship unleashed a water cannon on some Philippine fishing vessels near a shoal contested by the two countries.
Philippine Foreign Affairs Spokesman Raul Hernandez said his government “strongly protests” China’s alleged efforts to “prohibit” local fishermen from practicing their trade at Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea. “These actions, these incidents surely escalate the tension in the area. And this further threatens the peace and security and stability in the region,” he said.
Hernandez said the Philippines complained to the Chinese charge d'affairs in Manila about the incident.
Hernandez said the two fishing vessels were about 30 meters or more from the fish-rich shoal, on January 27, when they were sprayed by a water cannon on board the Chinese ship. He said they were among 14 other boats that were near Scarborough at the time. Hernandez did not say whether the other boats were Philippine-owned.
Two years ago, Philippine and Chinese ships were locked in a standoff for months at the shoal, which is about 230 kilometers west of the Philippine province of Zambales. Philippine vessels eventually left the area, but China’s surveillance remained and fishermen alleged they were kept out.
Hernandez said last year there were nine incidents of alleged “harassment” around Scarborough. He also says fishermen were chased away by Chinese patrol ships even as they tried to take shelter during bad weather.
China claims about 90 percent of the resource-rich South China Sea, based on historical maps. Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims in the sea.
The Chinese embassy in Manila put out a statement reiterating Beijing's claim that “China has indisputable sovereignty over South China Sea Islands and their adjacent waters, Huangyan Island included.” Huangyan is the Chinese name for Scarborough Shoal.
At a daily news briefing Tuesday, China’s Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Beijing does not accept Manila’s “protestations.” She said the Chinese ships are in the region to protect China's sovereignty and maintain normal order.
She said, “For foreign ships in these seas, Chinese ships have been carrying out necessary management appropriately and reasonably.”
Hua also emphasized China’s demand that the countries of these ships “earnestly respect China's sovereignty, and not provoke any new incidents.”
The Philippines has an arbitration case before a United Nations tribunal, in which it calls China’s claims “excessive.” China rejects the case. The Philippines is scheduled to submit supporting material for its case at the end of March.
The head of the Armed Forces of the Philippines said Monday the military is ready to defend local fishermen “if there is armed violence” against them.