By Jason Gutierrez
The Philippines on Sunday accused the Chinese coast guard of planting a “floating barrier” in a part of the disputed South China Sea that blocked Filipinos from their livelihood activities in the rich fishing grounds.
The Philippine Coast Guard and the country’s Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources said they condemned China’s installation of the barrier that they spotted on Sept. 22 near Bajo de Masinloc, which is the local name of the disputed Scarborough Shoal.
A United Nations tribunal in 2016 dismissed China’s sweeping claims over most of the South China Sea, including Scarborough Shoal, but Beijing has refused to recognize the ruling.
The incident comes on the heels of China’s coast guard vessels and its maritime militia seen by media harassing Philippine Coast Guard ships accompanying boats on a supply mission to Manila’s military outpost in Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal.
In August, Manila said Chinese vessels also fired water cannons on vessels accompanying one such mission.
A Philippine Coast Guard spokesperson said that during the Sept. 22 incident near Scarborough Shoal, four China Coast Guard vessels issued 15 radio warnings attempting to drive away the fisheries bureau vessel and the more than 50 Filipino boats in the area.
“The floating barrier with an estimated length of 300 meters was discovered by the PCG and BFAR personnel … when they conducted routine maritime patrol on Sept. 22, 2023, at the vicinity of [Bajo de Masinloc],” Commodore Jay Tarriela, coast guard spokesman for the West Philippine Sea (WPS), said in a statement on Sunday.
“The CCG crew alleged that the presence of the [fisheries bureau] vessel and Filipino fishermen violated international law and the domestic laws of the People’s Republic of China. The [fisheries bureau] vessel responded to each and every radio call and emphasized that they were carrying out a routine patrol within the territorial sea of [Bajo de Masinloc].”
The West Philippine Sea is Manila’s name for the South China Sea within its jurisdiction.
Tarriela added that the Chinese coast guard vessels moved away when they realized there were media personnel on the fisheries bureau boat.
The Chinese vessels installed the barrier when the Philippines fisheries bureau’s vessel arrived in the area to provide groceries and other items to help the Filipino fishermen sustain their operations, Tarriela said.
“It was reported by the Filipino fishermen that the CCG vessels usually install floating barriers whenever they monitor a large number of Filipino fishermen in the area,” he added.
BenarNews on Sunday contacted the Chinese Embassy in Manila for comment but did not immediately hear back.
China took control of the Scarborough Shoal area in 2012 after a standoff between Manila and Beijing. But after late 2016, Chinese vessels allowed Filipino fishing boats in the area when then-Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte pivoted to Beijing, which still controls access to the disputed shoal.
Since President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. took office last year after Duterte’s term ended, analysts say the new leader has been more vocal about protecting Philippine sovereignty.
The Philippine government has filed more than 99 notes verbale, or diplomatic protests, against China since Marcos Jr. took office.
Last month, Manila summoned Beijing’s ambassador to complain about the water cannon incident. The two countries have also tangled over statements by the Chinese envoy to Manila on the 150,000 Filipinos working in Taiwan, which Beijing considers a renegade province.
China claims nearly the entire South China Sea, including waters within the exclusive economic zones of Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan. While Indonesia does not regard itself as party to the South China Sea dispute, Beijing claims historic rights to parts of that sea overlapping Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone as well.
In July 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled in favor of the Philippines, and threw out China’s expansive claims in the South China Sea, particularly the West Philippine Sea.
Beijing, however, has ignored the ruling and carried on with its military expansionism in the strategic waterway, including building artificial islands.
Meanwhile, Philippine Secretary of Defense, Gilberto C. Teodoro Jr., on Friday said China was being, “to put it as politely as possible – hypocritical,” when it accused Manila of polluting the the South China Sea.
China had made the accusation in response to the Philippine Coast Guard and the Army blaming Beijing’s maritime militia ships for destroying coral in Manila-claimed waters in disputed sea. Manila said it was considering filing a case against Beijing over the destruction.
Beijing said Manila was polluting the sea’s waters with a “rusting” World War II-era ship it grounded in 1999 on Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal to establish its military outpost.
Philippine Defense Secretary Teodoro said China’s expansionist activities in the South China Sea were the real problem.
“Talk about the pot calling the kettle black! China continues to damage the [West Philippine Sea] by its illegal reclamation activities in the [South China Sea] and it was found to be a violator of international law in the 2016 Arbitral Award when such activities damaged the marine environment,” Teodoro said in a statement.
“Disingenuous propaganda lines such as this only serve to expose China’s insincerity and will only heighten the mistrust by the Filipino people and the rest of the world of the Chinese government.”