BEIJING warned Manila on Tuesday not to “stir up trouble” after the Philippine Coast Guard said it had removed a floating barrier at a disputed reef that was allegedly deployed by China to block Filipinos from the traditional fishing ground.
Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea has long been a source of tension between the countries. China seized the ring of reefs from the Philippines in 2012 and has since deployed patrol boats to keep out Filipino fishermen.
The latest spat was sparked by a 300-meter (328-yard) floating barrier that was found across the entrance of the shoal last week during a routine Philippine government resupply mission to Filipino fishermen plying the waters near the shoal.
The Philippines condemned the installation and its coast guard announced on Monday that it had “successfully” removed the barrier from the reef, which Manila calls Bajo de Masinloc, in a special operation ordered by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin hit back on Tuesday, saying Beijing “firmly upholds the sovereignty and maritime rights and interests of the Huangyan Island,” referring to the shoal by its Chinese name.
“We advise the Philippines not to provoke or stir up trouble,” Wang added.
“China has indisputable sovereignty over the island and its adjacent waters and sovereign rights and jurisdiction over relevant waters,” Wang said in a statement shared by the Chinese Embassy in Manila.
He noted that on September 22, “a vessel of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources of the Philippines, without China’s permission, intruded into the adjacent waters of Huangyan Dao and attempted to enter its lagoon.”
“China Coast Guard did what was necessary to block and drive away the Philippine vessel. The steps it took were professional and restrained,” Wang said.
‘Well within rights’
Philippine National Security Adviser Eduardo Año responded to the warning by saying his country was “well within its rights” to remove any barrier at the reef.
China claims sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea, despite a 2016 international court ruling that its stance has no legal basis.
Scarborough Shoal sits 240 kilometers (150 miles) west of the Philippines’ main island of Luzon and nearly 900 kilometers from the nearest major Chinese land mass of Hainan.
Under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which China helped negotiate, countries have jurisdiction over the natural resources within about 200 nautical miles (370 kilometers) of their shore.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo, in a chance interview Tuesday at the Senate, declined to comment on the removal of the floating barrier.
“I only read it in the papers. But if it’s correct. I don’t want to judge it,” Manalo said at the sidelines of the Senate hearing on the proposed 2024 budget of the DFA.
“But technically, we have a right to practice our sovereignty and our sovereign rights. So it would have been consistent with our position. But we’re still waiting for the full report [of the PCG and BFAR],” he said.
Asked to comment on the proposal of Sen. Francis Tolentino to file a case against China before the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, he said, “We’ll have to study the [filing] procedures.”
“We both recognize that we have differences in [the] South China Sea but we already said that we will not make that the only factor in our relationship with China,” Manalo said.
“But nevertheless, it’s a difference. We have agreed to manage it. And so the challenge is how to manage it properly,” the DFA chief said.