South China Sea: Philippines removes Chinese barrier in contested area
The Philippines has confirmed the removal of a floating barrier that had been installed by China to obstruct Philippine fishing boats from entering a disputed area in the South China Sea.
The Philippines Coast Guard reported that this action was taken following the directive of President Ferdinand Marcos Junior. Manila alleges that China violated its fishing rights by placing a 300m (1,000ft) barrier in the Scarborough Shoal.
China, which asserts control over more than 90% of the South China Sea and took control of the shoal in 2012, defended its coastguard’s actions, describing them as “necessary measures.”
According to the Philippines Coast Guard, the barrier posed a navigation hazard and constituted a clear violation of international law. Additionally, it impeded the fishing and livelihood activities of Filipino fishermen. The Philippines Coast Guard emphasized that the Scarborough Shoal is an integral part of Philippine national territory.
Commodore Jay Tarriela of the Coast Guard disclosed that the barrier was discovered during a patrol on Friday. He reported that three Chinese coast guard vessels and a Chinese maritime militia service boat had installed the barrier in response to the presence of a Philippine vessel.
During the encounter, the Chinese boats issued 15 radio challenges, accusing the Philippine ship and fishermen of violating international and Chinese laws. They later retreated upon realizing the presence of media personnel on board the Philippine vessel.
Japan has urged calm and said the South China Sea was central to regional stability.
“Our country strongly opposes any conduct that heightens tension in the South China Sea,” Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said at a regular press conference.
The South China Sea is a rich fishing ground that is believed to hold vast oil and gas reserves. More than half of the world’s fishing vessels operate in this area.
China’s claims – which include sovereignty over plots of land and their adjacent waters – have angered not just the Philippines but also Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Brunei.
China has backed its expansive claims with island-building and naval patrols.
The US says it does not take sides in territorial disputes but has sent military ships and planes near disputed islands in what it calls “freedom of navigation” operations.
Beijing seized the Scarborough Shoal in 2012 and forced fishermen from the Philippines to travel further for smaller catches.
It later allowed the Philippines to fish nearby when relations improved under former President Rodrigo Duterte.
However, tensions have heightened since Ferdinand Marcos Jr. became president last year.
President Marcos Jr restored security ties with the US and in early 2023 granted American troops wider access to Philippine military bases.
This angered China as a larger US presence in the Philippines provided Washington with an arc of alliances stretching from South Korea and Japan in the north to Australia in the south.