The Philippines has accused China of blocking coastguard patrols near Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea, just days after Beijing announced its seasonal fishing ban over the resource-rich waterway. In a statement on Tuesday night, Hermogenes Esperon, a national security adviser to President Rodrigo Duterte, said the China Coast Guard conducted “shadowing, blocking, dangerous manoeuvres and radio challenges” to two Philippine Coast Guard vessels in the waters near the shoal late last month. The statement said that Philippine Coast Guard vessels were on their way to the area “to enforce our fisheries laws and protect our fishermen” as part of the rotational patrols of Scarborough Shoal.
The protests come as Beijing imposed its annual 3½-month summer fishing ban over the waters of the South China Sea north of the 12th parallel. The ban came into effect on Saturday and China has repeatedly said it is part of an effort to “preserve fishery resources” in the world’s richest fishing grounds. But critics say the ban is part of China’s efforts to assert its territorial claims in the waterway, where Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan make counterclaims. The Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs said earlier this week that diplomatic protests had been filed against the Chinese coastguard’s actions at Scarborough Shoal.
As per reports, the Philippines also said it dispersed Chinese “maritime militia” ships in the waters near Sabina Shoal, in the Spratly Islands about 600km from Scarborough Shoal. In addition, Manila said more than 200 Chinese fishing boats were spotted in the waters near Whitsun Reef, also in the disputed Spratlys, in late March. Manila has filed several protests to Beijing over the massing of the Chinese fishing boats, though Beijing claimed at that time that the Chinese vessels were taking shelter from bad weather.
In the statement, Esperon, said the Philippines opposed the bans and Philippine fishermen were “encouraged to go out and fish” in the waters. Fishing rights are often at the centre of the disputes in the South China Sea, now a military flashpoint between the rival claimants of the vast and resource-rich waterway.
As per media reports, Vietnam rejected Beijing’s fishing ban, particularly in relation to the Gulf of Tonkin and the Paracel Islands. Vietnamese foreign ministry deputy spokesman Doan Khac Viet said the ban was a “unilateral decision” that had violated Vietnam’s sovereignty and international law.