Coast Guard drives off Filipino fishermen

Updated: 2015-02-06 07:30

By Zhang Yunbi(China Daily)

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Beijing has confirmed that a law-enforcement action was taken in January against Philippine fishermen who intruded into Chinese waters in the South China Sea, as analysts said Manila is trying to maintain tensions to further its objectives.

The Philippines' Department of Foreign Affairs issued a statement on Wednesday accusing China Coast Guard vessels of "deliberately ramming" three Philippine fishing boats on Jan 29.

That charge was answered on Thursday afternoon by the Foreign Ministry, which said that the Chinese vessels drove off Philippine fishing boats that were "illegally positioned" in the shoals off China's Huangyan Island last month and had refused requests to leave.

One Philippine vessel sustained "a slight scratch" in the process, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said. The waters around Huangyan Island have been a traditional fishery for Chinese fishermen for centuries.

But Manila's claims to the island have led to tensions between the two countries. A serious standoff took place near the island in April 2012, marking a low point in relations.

Li Jinming, a professor of maritime law and South China Sea studies at Xiamen University, said that it is not the first time the Philippines has made false accusations and Manila "obviously believes it is necessary to challenge the status quo as China has maintained powerful administration over the island".

Huangyan Island is part of China's territory. "The Chinese government vessels fulfilled their duties in the waters off the island and maintained order in accordance with the law," Hong said. China urged the Philippines to improve oversight of its fishermen and "make sure such incidents never happen again".

Li noted Manila's growing impatience. China has refused to respond to the Philippines' request for international arbitration of the South China Sea issue. "By making accusations against China, such as those on Thursday, the Philippines is trying to step up pressure on the International Tribunal," Li said.

One expert predicted that with the increasing engagement of regional outsiders in the South China Sea issue, Manila will instigate more hostile actions throughout the coming year to fan the flames and attempt to add cards to its hand.

Wu Shicun, head of the National Institute of South China Sea Studies, observed that the United States has been drifting away from its past position of not taking sides in the South China Sea.

"Washington's engagement on the issue is shifting", with more efforts to shift blame to China for its maritime policies and giving indirect support to Manila's arbitration campaign by releasing research papers, Wu said.

(China Daily 02/06/2015 page3)