Philippines, China both assert claims over South China Sea


CHINA’S Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin has asserted claims over the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea and asked the Philippines to “stop actions complicating the situation and escalating disputes.”

Wenbin was asked on Monday, April 26, 2021, to comment on the exercises being conducted by the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) in the area, which falls within the West Philippine Sea (WPS) and the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

“China enjoys sovereignty over Nansha (Spratly) Islands including Zhongye Island and Zhongsha Islands, including Huangyan Island and their adjacent waters, and exercises jurisdiction in relevant waters. We urge the relevant side to respect China's sovereignty and rights and interests, and stop actions complicating the situation and escalating disputes.

Zhongye refers to Pagasa Island in the WPS, also known as Thitu Island while Zhongsha Islands refer to Bajo de Masinloc, Panatag Shoal, or Scarborough Shoal.

On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague unanimously rejected China’s nine-dash claims in the South China Sea and ruled that certain areas of the Spratly Islands are within the Philippines’ EEZ based on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos).

China has refused to acknowledge this ruling.

As of Wednesday, April 28, the National Task Force West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) said at least five Chinese Coast Guard vessels remain in the WPS despite the series of diplomatic protests filed by the Department of Foreign Affairs.

The task force said three Chinese Coast Guard vessels were spotted in Bajo de Masinloc, one near the municipality of Kalayaan and another in Ayungin Shoal.

“These incursions are under review for the possible filing of appropriate diplomatic actions,” it said in a statement.

The task force said the PCG, Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) and Philippine National Police - Maritime Group (PNP-MG) are in constant coordination for the regular deployment of vessels in the WPS for law enforcement, monitoring, ensuring the safety of the Filipino fishermen, and protecting the environment.

It said BFAR has deployed its monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS) vessels and multi-mission offshore vessels (MMOV) to the municipality of Kalayaan for the conduct of operations against illegal unreported and unregulated fishing, protection of the marine environment and enhancing the well-being of Filipinos dependent on this critical resource which remains to be the priority of the national government.

“These vessels are collaborating with ships and aircraft of the PCG patrolling the area,” the NTF-WPS said.

“The PNP-MG has also dedicated its high-speed tactical watercraft, police gun boats, and police fast boats ready to be deployed in law enforcement patrols. PNP-MG personnel will be posted to the Municipality of Kalayaan and assigned as shipriders aboard PCG, Philippine Navy (PN) and BFAR vessels.” it added.

The task force said military aircraft were also tapped to conduct rotation sovereignty patrolling over Kalayaan, Bajo de Masinloc (BdM) and the rest of the western seaboard.

The NTF-WPS said the PCG conducted maritime patrols that coincided with its ongoing maritime capacity building exercises, Task Force Pagsasanay, in the area which is in response to the continued illegal presence of Chinese vessels there.

From April 15 to 22, there were no reported incidents involving the Chinese Coast Guard and Filipino fishermen. An average of 20 Filipino fishing vessels were found fishing in Bajo de Masinloc during the said period.

“Our government shall not waver in pursuing peaceful, rules-based and proactive initiatives on environmental protection, safety of navigation, maritime and food security within our maritime domains,” the NTF-WPS said.

“We remind all stakeholders in the region of their respective commitments made in the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, and underscore the importance of diplomacy and sincere discussion in exploring areas of cooperation especially on marine environmental protection in the area, lest we risk denying present and future generations the right to a healthy and sustainable environment,” it added. (Third Anne Peralta-Malonzo / SunStar Philippines)


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