U.S ally disregards Chinese warnings amid South China Sea tensions

The Philippines reaffirms patrol commitment in the disputed South China Sea area and disputes China’s expulsion claim. Tensions rise over fishing rights. China asserts sovereignty and the Philippines asserts EEZ claims.

The Philippines has reaffirmed its commitment to patrol a highly contested area in the South China Sea, despite objections from China, to reassure local fishermen. Manila disputed China’s claim that it had expelled a Philippine fisheries bureau vessel from the Second Thomas Shoal, an area China effectively occupied following a standoff in 2012.

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This shoal, known as Bajo De Masinloc in the Philippines and Huangyan Dao in China, is located less than 140 miles from the Philippine province of Luzon and nearly 600 miles from Hainan, the nearest Chinese province. Despite China’s assertions, the shoal falls well within the Philippines’ internationally recognized exclusive economic zone. The Chinese Coast Guard alleged that it had driven away a Philippine Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) vessel that was allegedly “illegally trespassing in waters adjacent to Huangyan Dao.”

The U.S. ally’s coast guard promptly disputed the claim, with spokesperson Jay Tarriela stating on social media platform X that the assertion was incorrect. Tarriela emphasized that the BRP Datu Sanday continues its patrol in disputed waters, aiming to safeguard Filipino fishermen’s security. He mentioned that journalists embedded on the ship would soon verify this. This exchange follows recent accusations by the Philippine BFAR against Chinese crews for damaging the shoal through cyanide fishing, based on testimonies from Filipino fishermen. President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has warned of legal action if investigations support these claims.

The BFAR and Chinese foreign ministry did not respond immediately to written requests for comment from Newsweek. The patrols conducted by the Fisheries Bureau and Coast Guard align with President Marcos Jr.’s directive to maintain a continuous Philippine presence in the disputed waters. Tensions escalated following the emergence of videos last month depicting China once again driving away Filipino fishermen from the shoal, which is a traditional fishing area for them as well as anglers from China and Vietnam.

China claims sovereignty over a significant portion of the South China Sea, including areas within the EEZs of the Philippines and other neighbouring countries. An EEZ grants claimant states exclusive access to natural resources within a 200-nautical-mile zone. The Philippines brought the dispute before an international arbitral court after losing control of the Second Thomas Shoal. Despite Beijing’s refusal to participate in the proceedings, it maintains that the court’s 2016 ruling, which largely favoured the Philippines, is illegal. The Philippine Senate recently passed a modification stating that any artificial structures within the country’s EEZ, such as the reefs in the Spratly Islands that China has developed and armed, would be officially asserted by the nation.