September 29, 2023
MANILA – A Chinese government spokesperson has mockingly dismissed the action taken by the Philippines against the China Coast Guard’s (CCG) installation of a 300-meter floating barrier that was intended to prevent Filipino fishermen from entering a lagoon at Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal off Zambales province.
At a press conference in Beijing on Wednesday, Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Wang Wenbin belittled the Philippine Coast Guard’s (PCG) operation, on orders of President Marcos, to cut off the barrier for being a “hazard to navigation and a clear violation of international law.”
“I would like to reiterate that Huangyan Dao (the Chinese name for Panatag) has always been China’s territory. What the Philippines did looks like nothing more than self-amusement,” Wang said in reply to a reporter’s question during the briefing. He added: “China will continue to safeguard our territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests over Huangyan Dao.”
The PCG said the CCG later removed the remnants of the barrier, an action that Wang did not deny.
Barred since 2012
Filipino fishermen have long been kept out of the shoal’s lagoon by China since a standoff in 2012 that prompted the Philippine government to file a case against Beijing before the international arbitration court.
The arbitral award released in 2016 reaffirmed the Philippines’ 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the West Philippine Sea, including Panatag, and rejected China’s sweeping claim in the South China Sea, for having “no legal basis” in international law.
The historic ruling classified the shoal, also known to local fishermen as Bajo de Masinloc, as a traditional fishing ground that should be shared with neighboring countries, such as China and Vietnam. It reaffirmed Manila’s 370-km EEZ in the West Philippine Sea, including Panatag, and rejected China’s sweeping claim in the South China Sea for having “no legal basis” in international law.
Beijing, however, has rejected the arbitral ruling and continues to patrol Panatag.
Envoys join outcry
China’s latest action at Panatag was called out by several ambassadors.
“As for the installation of floating fences in the waters around Scarborough Shoal, Japan strongly opposes any actions that increase tensions in the South China Sea,” Japanese Ambassador Koshikawa Kazuhiko said in a post on X (formerly Twitter) on Monday.
European Union Ambassador Luc Veron, also in a post on X on Monday, said: “Deeply concerning news. The installation of the floating barrier is dangerous, detrimental to the livelihoods of fishermen, and disregards the peace-driven objectives of Unclos (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea).”On Thursday, Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla refuted China’s claim that the Philippines was provoking trouble.
“We are asserting our rights under the Unclos, which is being respected by the whole world, hopefully by everybody, including China in the future,” he told reporters at a press briefing on Thursday.
Remulla earlier said that the barriers were “interfering with something that is granted to us in accordance with the [Unclos].”
“If it is an exclusive economic zone, then that is an interference in our activities,” he added.
Remulla said the government’s legal cluster was meeting Thursday to discuss issues related to the West Philippine Sea, including the possible filing of a complaint against China.
“[W]e know that we have to file a complaint. It’s a matter of choosing the complaint to be filed and where to file the complaint. That will be discussed properly, whether it’s the ICJ (International Court of Justice) or the PCA (Permanent Court of Arbitration) or other forum,” the justice secretary said.
“But I think I am more inclined to file with the PCA because they have the familiarity and the institutional memory to handle cases about the West Philippine Sea,” he added.
Earlier this month, the PCG also reported that the corals in Rozul (Iroquois) Reef near the Kalayaan Island Group had been severely damaged by Chinese vessels due to anchoring and harvesting activities.
Last week, Remulla said it was time that a case against China be filed before international tribunals for alleged massive coral harvesting and destruction of reefs in the West Philippine Sea.
“With or without the territorial dispute, the destruction of the environment is a sin against humanity [that is why] it’s a very good case to file on behalf of the Philippines and the sake of humanity itself,” he said, noting that they would tap the best legal experts in environmental cases to help the government
“We will pursue these cases against China since we already have a lot of evidence,” Remulla added.