The Philippines lodged diplomatic protests with China over two alleged fishing-related incidents at Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea, the site of a tense standoff between the two countries three years ago.
The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs released a statement saying the country “strongly protested China’s continuing actions to harass and prevent Filipino fishermen” from doing their jobs.
The move followed an incident during which a Chinese Coast Guard ship allegedly rammed three Philippine fishing vessels late last week at Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea.
“Because by the Chinese action they’re endangering the lives of our Filipino fishermen and then they’re also endangering their livelihood," said Foreign Affairs spokesman Charles Jose, adding that the country is “very much concerned.” Jose said none of the fishermen were hurt in the latest incident.
The Philippines also accused Chinese vessels of trolling for endangered giant clams in the Scarborough Shoal’s lagoons late last month, saying more than two dozen Chinese vessels were spotted unloading them onto other Chinese boats. They say such actions are in violation of international treaties and regulations.
China's foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters in Beijing that the Philippine boats were "illegally lingering" and that a coast guard dingy was sent to drive them away when it "slightly bumped" one of the fishing vessels.
He said China asked that the Philippines “strengthen education and indoctrination of its fishermen to prevent such incidents from happening again."
S. China Sea claims
China claims practically the entire South China Sea and has repeatedly said it has “indisputable sovereignty” over its islands, including the Scarborough Shoal - which China seized control of in 2012 following a standoff with Philippine vessels. Since then, Chinese surveillance ships have been patrolling the area surrounding the shoal and chasing away local fishermen.
The Philippines says the shoal is well within its exclusive economic zone, a 370-kilometer distance from a country’s shores, which under international law allows a country to exclusively exploit its resources. Apart from the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims in the heavily traveled, resource-rich sea.
Apart from having filed dozens of protests over the sea disputes, Manila in 2013 filed a case with an international arbitral tribunal against Beijing. It questions what it calls China’s “excessive” claim to the sea. China rejects arbitration and says it has no plans to respond to the panel.
Carl Thayer, a security analyst with the Australian Defense Force Academy, said even if Beijing ignores the protests, as it often does, Manila still stands to benefit.
“In this case the Philippines can gain some publicity… the coast guard which is out there for peaceful protection, supposedly, is now ramming fishing vessels," Thayer said. "So it’s the innocent party… they’re ‘the little guy.’”
According to Thayer, the protests also reaffirm how many in the international community view the situation.
In recent years, the Philippines has shown that it consistently prefers to air the dispute through multilateral means. China has always opted for one-on-one talks to resolve differences without what it calls meddling from outside entities.