MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has filed a diplomatic protest against China’s unilateral imposition of a three-and-half-month fishing ban in the South China Sea, saying the prohibition encroaches into parts of the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
In a diplomatic note dated May 30, the DFA conveyed its protest to the moratorium, which runs from May 1 to Aug. 16, and covers areas in the West Philippine Sea over which the Philippines has “sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction.”
It said the ban did not exempt areas within the Philippines’ EEZ or limit it to Chinese vessels.
China’s annual summer fishing prohibition covers waters down to the 12th parallel of the South China Sea, including the Paracel Islands near Vietnam and Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal near the Philippines. Both areas have become disputed waters because of China’s territory-grabbing activities.
Manila filed and won a case against Beijing at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, Netherlands, after China seized control of Panatag Shoal in 2012 following a standoff with the Philippine Navy. The area is a traditional Philippine fishing ground.
The July 2016 arbitral award invalidated China’s sweeping claims to the South China Sea and affirmed the traditional and legitimate fishing rights of Filipino fishermen within the country’s EEZ.
The DFA said in a statement that China’s imposition of the fishing moratorium “has no basis and undermines the mutual trust, confidence and respect that should underpin bilateral relations,” stressing that this was affirmed most recently by President Rodrigo Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
In a telephone summit initiated by the Chinese government in April, the two leaders stressed the need “to exert all efforts to maintain peace, security and stability in the South China Sea by exercising restraint, dissipating tensions and working on a mutually agreeable framework for functional cooperation.”
Meanwhile, the DFA said it had also summoned a senior official of the Chinese Embassy in Manila to protest the alleged “harassment” by the China Coast Guard (CCG) of a Taiwanese research vessel with Filipino scientists inside the Philippines’ EEZ.
The Chinese official was called on April 13, the DFA said in a statement, adding that it was reviewing other reported incidents in the disputed waters for possible filing of appropriate diplomatic action.
The DFA issued the statement after it was asked to comment on a report by Washington-based Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (Amti) regarding several incidents of alleged harassment over the last two months by CCG against Philippine ships in the West Philippine Sea.
The report included an incident in March where a CCG vessel was seen shadowing RV Legend, which was then conducting an authorized marine scientific research activity.
The offshore survey is a project of the UP National Institute of Geological Sciences) and the National Central University in Taiwan aimed at mapping offshore faults and other geologic features that could set off future earthquakes, tsunamis and other potentially catastrophic hazards in the region.
On April 21, CCG ships also interfered with a Philippine research activity, this time conducted by the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) at Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal, according to Amti.
Several hours later, also at Ayungin, Chinese ships harassed the Philippine Coast Guard’s Parola-class patrol vessel BRP Cape Engaño, it added.
Ayungin Shoal is a low-tide elevation located 194 kilometers (105 nautical miles) off Palawan and is within the Philippines’ EEZ.
It is occupied by a small military contingent on the BRP Sierra Madre, a World War II landing ship tank intentionally grounded there by the Philippine Navy in 1999 to serve as a military outpost.
The new incidents at the shoal came five months after the Philippine government protested CCG vessels’ blocking and blasting of water cannons on Philippine boats on a resupply mission to BRP Sierra Madre.
According to Amti director and Southeast Asia expert Gregory Poling, the long-term plan for China “seems to be to make it so dangerous and costly that the Philippines abandons the Sierra Madre.”
The DFA stressed that “illegal activities around Ayungin Shoal are subject of diplomatic protests in the exercise of the Philippines’ sovereign rights and jurisdiction over Ayungin Shoal, which forms part of the exclusive economic zone and continental shelf of the Philippines as affirmed by the 2016 Award on the SCS arbitration.”
Regarding the presence of foreign coast guard vessels around Recto (Reed) Bank, the DFA said these were “not consistent with innocent passage and are clear violations of Philippine maritime jurisdiction where only the Philippine government has the mandate of enforcement.”
“The detailed reports of these activities are being reviewed for the filing of appropriate diplomatic action,” it added.
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