News / Asia

Philippines, Vietnam Cry Foul Over Chinese Vessels in Disputed Waters

Filipino fishermen bring their fish to shore in the coastal town of Infanta, Pangasinan province, northwestern Philippines, May, 7, 2013.
Filipino fishermen bring their fish to shore in the coastal town of Infanta, Pangasinan province, northwestern Philippines, May, 7, 2013.
Simone Orendain
It is fishing season once again in the South China Sea and, as in past years, clashes between Chinese fishermen and those of their maritime neighbors are on the rise. 
China is aggressively asserting its sovereignty over the disputed waters while some of its neighbors are also defending their claims with diplomatic might.

Days after a 32-vessel fishing fleet from China headed for the Spratly group of islands in the South China Sea, the Philippines filed a diplomatic protest.  On May 10, the Philippines said China had a military frigate, two surveillance ships and some fishing boats around Second Thomas Shoal, in an area that Manila says is within its 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone.

Foreign Affairs Spokesman Raul Hernandez called the presence of the Chinese vessels provocative and illegal.

“The concern of the Philippines is that this area, this shoal, is really an integral part of our national territory,” Hernandez said.

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This is the second year in a row that military vessels have escorted a Chinese fishing fleet so far south at this time of year. China bans fishing near its own shores from mid-May until August to permit the rehabilitation of fish stocks.  That's when the fleets head out into waters claimed by China's neighbors: the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.

The fishing ban causes special problems for Vietnam, which refuses to recognize the prohibition in waters it claims as its own.

That has led to regular clashes, some of them violent. This week, Hanoi filed a diplomatic protest saying one of its ships was rammed by a Chinese vessel on May 20.

Li Mingjiang, a security expert at the Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, said the Chinese excursions to the Spratlys have been going on for decades.  But he said the tension has escalated since last year.  

“In the context of… this more tense relationship between the Philippines and China since April last year when the Scarborough Shoal conflict broke out… the Philippines seems to be more vigilant of any Chinese activity,” Li said.

A year ago, Philippine maritime officials tried to arrest Chinese fishermen in waters off Scarborough Shoal, which Manila says is well within its exclusive economic zone.  

Hernandez said this year’s Chinese fishing trip may appear to be routine.

 “But this is all part of their strategy to aggressively claim the whole of the South China Sea,” he noted.

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has consistently said China's sovereignty over the Spratlys -- which it calls the Nansha Islands -- is "indisputable" and that its behavior is “beyond reproach.”

While it wages a diplomatic fight, the Philippines is also talking tough.  Last week, President Benigno Aquino announced $1.8 billion in new funding for the country's notoriously weak military and said the Philippines will always stand up to anybody who threatens it.  

But Carl Thayer, a security analyst with the Australian Defense Force Academy, said Aquino will have a hard time backing up his rhetoric.
 
“Until their force modernization takes hold, which is years away, there’s nothing much they can do except make public protests," Thayer remarked.

Rommel Banlaoi of the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research said Manila is pushing that strategy as hard as it can.

“Now there is a systematic attempt to really use all possible diplomatic channels, all possible diplomatic means, to protect the Philippines’ interest in the South China Sea,” he said.

Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez said the Philippines is ready to file more protests for as long as the perceived intrusions take place.

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by: GKoh
June 05, 2013 9:18 PM
QFiver -

PRC has only proven 'claimed' sovereignty to herself. Not in an internationally recognized legal process or method. Therein is the flaw in your absolutist claim. One can claim sovereignty all day until the cow comes home, but the fact is that such claim is irrelevant unless internationally recognized, legally. Hence 'the DISPUTABLE' territories - i.e. multiple conflicting, unilateral sovereignty claims by numerous countries. Flat out, these disputes need mufti-lateral resolution as they are mostly overlapping disputes and do involve all claimants for future harmony and cooperation. With respect to 'arbitration'... the beauty behind that card being played is that it can help facilitate said multilaterally negotiated resolution, i.e. legally and mutually recognized code of conduct.

Now, with regards to PRC's current unilateral 'claim' of sovereignty, for one thing one should ponder as part of this discussion is that the 'plate' containing most of 'disputed' sea floor territories is the SUNDA plate -- altogether independent/autonomous from the Eurasian plate which connects to China. And of course, SUNDA would 'precede' even modern day PRC sovereignty claims. Yes, time for mufti-lateral negotiations and resolution. Time to cool jets and take a step back for sake of cooperation and humanity.
In Response

by: GKoh
June 07, 2013 5:26 AM
Now QFiver, there you go again. With all due respect, some of the 'disputes' are indeed mostly between TWO (2) nation-states, yes, but some of the disputes are in fact between overlapping claims by Multiple states. Let's take Scarborough dispute for example. There are actually 3 parties which should be cooperatively negotiating said potential 'shared' exploitation and regulated economic/scientific activity in that area (PRC, RoC and of course Philippines). Yet, while each side might be expecting a better result in their respective favor at the end of the day -- only natural of a state to feel such deserving right -- the 'final Scarborough settlement' (requiring renegotiation, picking up where left off unresolved issues) should be negotiated on EQUAL weight, on how to best 'share' disputed shoal... with no one party truly expressing unilateral rights to the territory as a starting position.

Alhtough, if anything, at the very least, NO maritime patrol vessel should be forcefully pushing away or intimidating Filipino fishermen interim period from attempting to fish at that historically important site (and being well within Philippine EEZ). So that's point number one. Even prior to continued negotiations on Scarborough dispute though, the conflicting parties should agree in the interim; Not to harass or intimidate or prevent mutual Chinese, Taiwanese, or Philippine fishing/scientific activity there. If that can't be achieved, then unfortunately such a case would seem to justify the desire for one party to take another to arbitration settlement. Hopefully though, that is not necessary and a satisfactory settlement can be mutually accepted and be sustainable for sake of environment and economy.

Now, moving onto Spratly Island dispute... of course, this is a far more complex and challenging 'Multilateral' conflict and dispute to resolve (on reasonable but Equal weight) and with restrained 'pre-conceived' notions overall. No, Spratly dispute will not be so easy to settle, especially given the noted potential preconceived expectations by many if not all sides, desiring nothing more normal in their perception but their self interests retained and secured. Yet, truly, all sides need to confidently approach this Multilateral 'Spratly settlement opportunity with a sense of reality and and a sense of knowing that there can be fair success and benefits for all sides to share in a reasonable manner. And most of all, be in a mutually agreed 'regulated manner', so as to emphasize sustainability and responsible modern planning and compromise.

Best wishes to that mutual pursuit and for continued positive rewards being received from this paradise on Earth. Keep jets cool and the unilateral provocations minimal. All should be thankful for this great opportunity, yes. Regards from an 'honorary' member of Coast Guard Auxiliary (and I'll wish not to disclose more than that, thanks) :)
In Response

by: QFiver
June 06, 2013 10:31 AM
Territory disputes such as China/Philippines, Japan/Russia, South Korea/Japan, etc. are to be resolved through dialogue between claimants without influence of any outside party. The way I see it, China will like to see a peaceful settlement on the South China Sea dispute no less than the any other country.

by: QFiver
May 31, 2013 11:09 PM
Based on the EEZ idea, some countries, like Philippines and others, suddenly jump in and claim thousands of sq miles of ocean, including the land features, originally belonging to China and formerly Taiwan. Surely the true spirit of the EEZ is not to allocate one country’s assets to its neighbors. These countries have clearly mis-used the EEZ to justify their claims.
In Response

by: Arnel from: Ph
June 05, 2013 10:21 AM
Why dont you look at the world map first if you dont see that something is wrong with china's claim then obviously something is wrong with you. To base claims on maps when they were made at a time when everyone thought the world was flat is ridiculous..crazy!! And to say that the Philippines is the bully is just are you on drugs? Who is using force? Who has a bigger armed forces? Enough of your psychological conditioning we are not stupid.
In Response

by: QFiver
June 03, 2013 10:43 AM
@Remie
Please stop using the “bully” tactic. Following the Filipino coast guard shooting incident, the world knows Philippines is the bully. Now coming back to the EEZ issue, I think you do not carefully read ALL my comments. I say it again: (1) When there is a clash between Sovereignty and EEZ, Sovereignty takes precedence. Simply put, Philippines cannot claim it as its EEZ coz China has proven sovereignty long before EEZ takes effect. (2) Sovereignty is an issue between two contesting countries, you cannot force an arbitration, unless both countries agree to the process. (3) UNCLOS is not the appropriate place for dealing with sovereignty issues.
In Response

by: Remie from: Canada
June 03, 2013 7:35 AM
@QFiver, You dont make sense , if there is a NEUTRAL mediator it will be fair such as EEZ. Also China doesn't have any proof to take to EEZ , that is the real reason they are afraid to go to EEZ, nothing to do with giving its asset to neighbours. China ,clearly sign on with EEZ and now they are not following the rules? Chin is not showing " true spirit" rather they are showing bullying.

By the way it is bias and not logical to assume China is only one who fish in south sea for generations. Where do you think other countries closer to their beach front fish? Spratley and Parcel which are closer to them. Also it is ridiculous to claim 80% of sea for any nation.
In Response

by: QFiver
June 02, 2013 10:30 AM
@GKoh
You may have the point. The issue has to be resolved through negotiation, not by arbitration. No law or legislation, can sensibly be applied in a retroactive manner. China has proven sovereignty before EEZ kicks in. When there is an overlap between sovereignty and EEZ, it is only logical for the former to take precedence over the latter. Moreover, EEZ may not originally be designed for addressing sovereignty issues, nor is UNCLOS the appropriate avenue for ruling on sovereignty.
In Response

by: QFiver
June 01, 2013 10:59 PM
@ Mhee
China has indisputable sovereignty of the island chains. If you think Philippines can change this fact on the basis of EEZ, I wish you luck.
In Response

by: QFiver
June 01, 2013 10:56 PM
@Henry Winn
Nansha and Xisha islands, also known as Spratly and Paracel, are China’s historical fishing grounds. Generations of Chinese fishermen have been and now continue to frequent the regions. China has absolute sovereignty of the islands hundreds of years before the UNCLOS and EEZ are in place. There are numerous evidence to prove the facts. The map drawn by the then ROC government shortly after the end of WW2 was to highlight the sovereignty claim of the two island chains. Since then Taiwan has stationed guards on the largest island in the region.
To answer your last question: Coastal exposure and distance is not the only factor that determines off-shore sovereignty, one more critical factor being ability to sail the ocean.
In Response

by: Henry Winn from: usa
June 01, 2013 9:11 AM
EEZ is not an idea: it's the international laws agreed and signed by most nations including China. It's also not sudden: for decades now, no nation accepts Chinese claim based on self-proclaim 1,000 years ownership. What's sudden is the 1947 map, drawn to trace Chinese merchant routes/maritime travel guides with some penciled-in 11 unscientific dashes- become the bible of Chinese sovereignty! How did China discover and own this 2.5 million square miles of ocean, having the least coastal exposure to it as compared to the native Cham, Malay and Viet whose livelihood depend on this water since the beginning of time?
In Response

by: Mhee from: Philippines
June 01, 2013 2:16 AM
To QFiver:How did you know that the Philippine .EEZ is originally belong to China if this is really true why China is afraid to bring the issue to the International.Philippines is just claiming what is really for them .Better read history about your beloved mao zdong if you don't know.EXCUSE ME PO!!!!!
In Response

by: GKoh from: Pacific rim
June 01, 2013 2:02 AM
QF -

No question there are overlapping, disputable issues in the South China Sea/West Philippines Sea which MUST be worked out multi-laterally between all the parties directly involved. There must be some mutually agreed upon code of conduct and protocol for sharing and exploiting this region.

As such, as you note, it is arguable that the EEZ-issue needs to be better redefined with respect to all parties with claims on Spratly Islands, among other areas of dispute.

So yes, while it's arguable that Philippines among others will probably have to make some compromises vis-a-vis certain exclusively located (and over-lapping) EEZ points of contention, and negotiate how to share such areas cooperatively, it's equally important too that PRC prepares to negotiate with equal share and make compromise.

Regardless, any unilateral sovereignty claim by PRC over a resource-rich area exclusively within Philippine EEZ is indisputably not legitimate and is not internationally recognized legally. That sort of dispute (misunderstanding) probably needs to be tackled and corrected first, in the near-future.

by: Mhee from: Philippines
May 31, 2013 2:18 PM
If all the Countries who have disputed with China like Japan,India and the Philippines,Vietnam and the rest of the ASEAN Countries will join together to fight China,I'm sure China will be scared.China wants to conquer all the seas to put its over populated people.
In Response

by: jack from: usa
June 02, 2013 4:39 AM
Of course, we cant expect the PH to recognise China's claim
and vice versa.The fact of the matter is China, under Chiang
Kaishek first occupied the Spratly before and after WW2,Right
thereafter, a filipino individual by the name of Thomas Cloma
decided to claim the islands around the main island (itu Aba)
in the spratly Archipelago.Chiang's men evicted them but over the years they kept coiming and claiming ,especially after
the UNCLOS came into being.Expect to see more evictions
akin to removing illegal aliens from the borders in the US.
In Response

by: Vic from: Taipei
May 31, 2013 8:28 PM
Before, we only talk about land territory; now, we extend "territory" to the sea. Well, if you want to go and claim the high sea as yours, then you better be able to fight for it. Philippines just went out too far to claim sovereignty. Limiting oneself to the historical 12 nautical mile is a better solution; going beyond that, one should compromise with others. Philippines is a pygmy in every sense of the word, and the world will not risk peace for the sake of Filipinos in their elusive hope for the treasures of the deep.

by: Tuan5554 from: Canada
May 31, 2013 10:31 AM
The only way to stop China is to somehow get the US to be on the Philippines, Vietnam sides and affirm that "Mr. China, we will use force to stop you if you use force against the smaller countries in the region; all disputes regarding who owns what must go to international court.". Currently, China is not ready to go head-to-head vs the US: wait until it becomes even more powerful, it will be impossible to stop china without going to full fledge war. This move might need a few small clashes where a couple of China's frigates are sunk in order for China to keep away. But it is better than waiting. Time is on China's side: its military will be more powerful.
In Response

by: bob marley from: sydney
May 31, 2013 2:37 PM
Problem is that the self-professed champion of the free world has much more to gain/lose from its friendly/sour relationship with the PRC than all of ASEAN x 5 let alone Vietnam and the Philippines with their combined GDP that is less than tiny Hong Kong's.
In Response

by: hostile elite from: DC
May 31, 2013 1:16 PM
US should stay out of Asia, & stop importing East Asians to America.

Let these countries handle it themselves.

by: Cả Thộn from: Hà Nội
May 31, 2013 9:33 AM
It is true that Vietnam can't do nothing against Chinese barbaric aggrassion over South China Sea but make street protest during Xi Jingping's visit in California next week to let the whole world know how bad, how ugly Beijimg regime is.
In Response

by: john cai from: canada
June 01, 2013 1:35 AM
I support you to street protest. Beijing is a bad boy in the world.

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