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China says Philippines trespassed on Scarborough Shoal with patrol boat

A LANDSAT 7 image of Scarborough Shoal in the West Philippine Sea. — WIKIPEDIA

CHINA’S military on Monday said a Philippine military ship “illegally entered” waters near Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea and urged the Philippines to immediately stop its provocations.

The statement marks a rare warning from the Chinese military towards the Philippines over its moves in disputed waters in the South China Sea. The military had mostly directed its warnings against US warships in the region.

Philippine National Security Adviser Eduardo M. Año in a statement on Tuesday accused China of “overhyping” the incident and “creating unnecessary tensions between our two nations.”

The Philippine vessel, which conducted the patrol operations, did not illegally enter any space under Chinese sovereignty, he said, calling on China to stop “its aggressive action in Philippine waters.”

China and the Philippines have had several confrontations in the South China Sea, recently trading accusations about a collision between a Chinese coastguard vessel and a boat from the Philippines.

“We are urging the Philippine side to immediately stop its infringement and provocations, and earnestly avoid further escalation,” said Senior Colonel Tian Junli, a spokesman for the People’s Liberation Army Southern Theater Command.

The Scarborough Shoal is claimed by China, the Philippines and Taiwan.

“The Philippine side’s actions have seriously violated China’s sovereignty and international law and basic norms governing international relations, and are prone to misunderstanding and miscalculation,” he said in a Chinese military article.

He added that China had followed, monitored, warned and blocked the ship in accordance with the law.

Beijing claims sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea, including parts of the exclusive economic zones of Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam.

This has caused escalating maritime friction and territorial disputes.

“We urge China to act responsibly, respect UNCLOS, adhere to the 2016 arbitral ruling, promote the rules-based international order and stop its aggressive and illegal actions in Philippine waters,” Mr. Año said.

Mr. Año was referring to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and the ruling, handed down by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague in 2016 that voided China’s claim to almost the entire South China Sea.

Manila has “every right to patrol the length and breadth of the West Philippine Sea,” which necessarily includes the shoal that falls within its 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ), Mr. Año said in the statement.

The Philippine military and coast guard “will not be deterred by the aggressive and illegal activities” of the Chinese navy, coast guard and maritime militia vessels, he added.

‘NOT AFRAID’Contrary to China’s claim, the Philippine vessel PS39 completed its routine patrol operations “without any untoward incident,” Mr. Año said.

Chinese vessels, “as usual,” shadowed the Navy vessel, he said.

“While China’s complaint didn’t specify how close the Philippine ship came to Scarborough Shoal, it appears to have approached the shoal within 12 nautical miles,” Raymond M. Powell, a fellow at the Gordian Knot Center for National Security Innovation, said in an X message.

He said the move is important because Manila “needs to keep asserting its position that China has unlawfully seized control of the shoal from the Philippines.”

“Were it to stop visiting Scarborough Shoal, China could say that Manila has acquiesced to its own claim of sovereignty.”

The Chinese narrative is but a parcel of Beijing’s comprehensive strategy to solidify its claims in the South China Sea, Joshua Bernard B. Espeña, who teaches foreign relations at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines, said in a Facebook Messenger chat.

“Beijing has been adept in keeping that narrative to get away with the costs of a Philippine-US countermove while reaping territorial benefits,” he said as he urged Manila to never back down and “keep pushing China’s limits.”

He said China’s neighbors have learned how to get away with the costs of its “aging” grey zone tactics, with the Philippine Coast Guard actively documenting its aggression at sea.

Manila has demonstrated that it’s not afraid of the costs of boosting its activities at sea with allies, he added.

Party-list Rep. France L. Castro urged the government of President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. to assert Philippine sovereignty and defend the rights of Filipino fisherfolk at Scarborough Shoal.

“We must stand firm against China’s attempts to undermine our sovereignty,” she said in a statement. “The Philippine government must prioritize the welfare and interests of our people, especially our fisherfolk who heavily rely on the resources at Scarborough Shoal.”

She accused China of intruding, noting that it should be aware that other countries exist in Asia and have their own territories.

“China should wake up from its delusion and face reality,” she said. “The Philippines has every right to protect its territorial integrity and ensure the welfare of its people. China has no right to dictate our actions within our own territory.”

Scarborough Shoal is about 120 nautical miles west of the Philippine island of Luzon, according to the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative.

China has effectively controlled the shoal after it has maintained “constant coast guard presence at the feature since 2012,” it said.

In September, the Chinese Coast Guard installed floating barriers at Scarborough Shoal to drive away a Philippine government vessel, denying Filipino fishermen access to their traditional fishing ground.

The Philippine Coast Guard said at the time that China typically installs floating barriers when they monitor many Filipino fishing boats in the area, citing accounts from fishermen. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza and Beatriz Marie D. Cruz with Reuters

Neil Banzuelo

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