The Philippines accused Chinese ships of bullying its coast guard in the South China Sea on Monday, calling it a “blatant infringement” of sovereignty and demanding that Beijing remove vessels from his country’s exclusive economic zone.
Between January 1 and March 18, Philippine maritime patrols spotted “hundreds of Chinese vessels” in areas of the South China Sea that Manila claims as territory, including Pag-asa, Subi, and Loaita islands, Lankiam Cay, Second Thomas Shoal, Jackson Atoll, and Scarborough Shoal, according to a statement from the Department of Foreign Affairs.
The DFA stated that it “condemned the Chinese Coast Guard’s shadowing, blocking, risky maneuvering, and radio challenges of Philippine Coast Guard vessels conducting lawful maritime patrols and training in the vicinity of Bajo de Masinloc on April 24 and 25, 2021.”
Scarborough Shoal, located 118 nautical miles west of the Philippine island of Luzon within the disputed Spratly Islands and the country’s 200 nautical-mile exclusive economic zone, is known as Bajo de Masinloc in Manila (EEZ).
The DFA also expressed its displeasure with the “constant, illegal, prolonged, and increasing presence of Chinese fishing vessels and maritime militia vessels in Philippine maritime zones.”
Manila also dismissed an earlier comment by Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin about Beijing’s maritime allegations.
“China has authority over the Nansha islands, including Zhongye [Pag-asa] Island, and the Zhongsha islands, including Huangyan Island [Scarborough Shoal], as well as jurisdiction in relevant waters.” “We urge the relevant parties to respect China’s sovereignty, rights, and interests, and to refrain from acts that complicate the situation and escalate disputes,” Wang said on April 26.
The DFA stated on Monday that the Philippines has “sovereignty and authority” over Scarborough Shoal and a portion of the Spratlys, and that the Coast Guard’s maritime patrols and exercises are a “legitimate and regular act… in its territory and territorial waters.”
“China has no legal authority in these regions. The presence of Chinese Coast Guard vessels in the Philippines’ territorial waters of Pag-asa and Bajo de Masinloc, as well as its exclusive economic zone, is cause for serious concern. The illegal and lingering presence of these vessels is a flagrant violation of Philippine sovereignty. ”
The DFA’s comment was the latest in a long line of formal protests against Chinese ships in Philippine waters.
Since March, when it called out the presence of about 200 ships accused of being manned by Beijing’s maritime militia at Whitsun Reef inside the Philippine EEZ, Manila has lodged regular protests with Beijing.
The Chinese Embassy in Manila did not immediately respond to a request for comment from BenarNews on Monday.
Meanwhile, Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. slammed China’s behavior in a profanity-laced tweet on his personal Twitter account.
“China, my mate, how can I phrase it politely? Let’s see… O… Get the [expletive] out of here. What are you doing to our relationship? ” Locsin took to Twitter on Monday.
Later, Manila’s top diplomat referred to President Rodrigo Duterte’s September 2020 UN address, in which he cited a 2016 arbitral award that ruled the Philippines’ claim to an EEZ in the South China Sea legitimate over China’s wide claim.
Since taking office in 2016, Duterte has worked to improve ties between the Philippines and China while remaining silent on the ruling.
Duterte said in a televised speech last week that China was a “happy friend” and that he did not want “trouble” or “war.” Despite Beijing’s demands, he also said that he would not order a halt to patrols in the South China Sea.
In response to reports of dissonance between the president and his defense and foreign secretaries, defense chief Delfin Lorenzana said his statements “echoed Duterte’s stand,” adding that Manila’s patrols in the South China Sea will continue.
“President Duterte’s instructions to us have been very strong and straightforward: defend what is rightfully ours without resorting to battle, and keep the seas peaceful,” Lorenzana said.
“While we recognize that China’s military capability is superior to ours, this does not stop us from defending our national interests and our people’s integrity with all we have,” Lorenzana said.
Manila has increased its non-military presence in South China Sea waters it claims through its coast guard, fisheries bureau, and maritime police. These agencies conducted a series of drills in the South China Sea, including around Scarborough Shoal, last week.
Meanwhile, following a standoff with the Philippine Navy in 2012, the China Coast Guard, a unit connected to the Chinese military, has maintained a constant presence at Scarborough Shoal.
At the time, Chinese Coast Guard ships barred Filipino fishermen from anchoring within the lagoon, which provides safe harbor during bad weather. Filipino fishermen who used to fish at Scarborough Shoal have registered an 80% drop in catch since the Chinese took over.
Furthermore, China’s recent law authorizing its Coast Guard to fire at perceived intruders in the South China Sea has alarmed Filipinos, especially fishermen.
The Filipino fishermen’s advocacy group Pamalakaya petitioned the United Nations on Friday to overturn this statute, investigate China’s actions in the South China Sea, and “demilitarize” the strategic and resource-rich seas.
Aside from China and the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Vietnam all have claims to parts of the South China Sea. While Indonesia does not consider itself a party to the conflict, China has claims in the South China Sea that overlap with Indonesia’s EEZ.