South China Sea: China Drives Out Filipino Fishermen Using a Water Cannon

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China has been claiming ownership of much of the South China Sea in violation of international law. The Philippines has not been afraid to point this out and has taken its case to the UN arbitration court. China refused to participate in the UN effort to resolve the issue,

Manila (AFP) – The Philippines’ military chief on Monday accused China’s coast guard of firing water cannons at Filipino fishermen for the first time to drive them away from a disputed sea shoal.

General Emmanuel Bautista said Chinese vessels fired cannon on January 27 near Scarborough Shoal — the subject of a bitter territorial row in the strategically important South China Sea.

“The Chinese coast guard tried to drive away Filipino fishing vessels to the extent of using water cannon,” Bautista told a forum of the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines.

He did not say if anyone was hurt and added that China continues to maintain an armed coast guard and other vessels at the shoal.

Chinese embassy spokesmen could not be contacted for comment.

Scarborough Shoal lies 220 kilometres (135 miles) off the main Philippine island of Luzon. It is about 650 kilometres from Hainan island, the nearest major Chinese land mass.

File photo of Chinese surveillance ships off Scarborough Shoal, in a picture handed out by the Philippines Dept of Foreign Affairs. (AFP/Dfa/Pn)

In April 2012, the Philippines and China had a tense standoff which ended with the former retreating from the shoal — a rich fishing area.

China has occupied the shoal as part of its claim to most of the South China Sea including waters near the coasts of its neighbours.

The Philippines, along with Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam also have competing claims to parts of the sea, and the rivalries have been a source of tension for decades.

The South China Sea is one of the world’s most important waterways as it is home to vital shipping lanes and is believed to sit atop lucrative deposits of natural resources.

Last year, Manila asked a United Nations arbitration tribunal to rule on the validity of China’s claim to most of the sea, but Beijing has refused to be part of the process.

“We continue to give primacy to its (the dispute’s) peaceful resolution principally through international arbitration,” Bautista said.

“All our actions are in support to that. We remain hopeful that the issue can be resolved peacefully and result in peace and stability in the region.”

He added too that “our resolve to perform our mandate as protectors of the people and the state and of our national territory” had not been weakened.

“We will continue to perform that mandate with whatever we’ve got,” he said, adding that the country was in the first phase of modernising its poorly-equipped armed forces.

China says it has the rights to stop and search any vessel in the South China Sea are of Chinese sovereignty. But China claims more than eighty percent of the South China Sea. The U.S., the Philippines, Vietnam and others do not agree with China and say China’s claim claim is not well founded in international law.

New ship patrols South China Sea

China’s largest fishery administration ship, the Yuzheng 312, begins its patrol in the South China Sea last year. China says ships like this are necessary for law enforcement mission in disputed sea areas. KE XIAOJUN / CHINA NEWS SERVICE

Above: China says it has sovereignty over all inside the “Nine Dash Line” as seen here.

Map of South China Sea

China has claimed much of the South China Sea for itself —  claims that have upset many in the region, especially Vietnam and the Philippines. A huge wealth of untapped oil is believed to be below the sea here.

The chart below shows the area declared by China on 1 January 2014 as “an area under China’s jurisdiction.” China says “foreign fishing vessels” can only enter and work in this area with prior approval from China. Vietnam, the Philippines and others have said they will not comply with China’s law.

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