South China Sea: Filipinos were “bullied” away from the Second Thomas Shoal by China’s Coast Guard, witnesses say

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Philippine held Island called Second Thomas Shoal, also called Ayungin Shoal. The grounded Philippine ship BRP Sierra Madre is circled.

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MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Chinese coast guard vessels repeatedly blocked or chased Filipino and Vietnamese fishermen from a disputed shoal where they previously had only tried to block military supply runs, a Philippine marine officer said Tuesday.

Marine 1st Lt. Mike Pelotera said he and his men saw the fishermen being “bullied” away from the Second Thomas Shoal in the South China Sea at least eight times from December to March, when his marine monitoring unit was replaced by a new batch.

He said he shot a video of a Chinese ship chasing a wooden-hulled Vietnamese fishing boat dangerously close to coral outcrops.

Chinese blockades of fishing boats have been reported in other disputed areas, but Pelotera’s comments were the first military report of such activity against fishermen trying to venture into Second Thomas Shoal. The Chinese coast guard in recent months has tried to block boats delivering marines and food supplies to a rusting Philippine navy ship deliberately marooned at the shoal since 1999.

“It’s with a heavy heart that we saw our countrymen being bullied away from our own territory,” Pelotera said. “But we’re observing a maximum-tolerance policy and we want this dispute to be peacefully resolved.”

The 8-kilometer (5-mile) long submerged coral outcrop is a rich fishing area believed to have undersea oil and gas deposits.

The Philippines also protested to China when a Chinese government ship fired a water cannon to drive away Filipino fishermen from another disputed region, the Scarborough Shoal north of the Spratlys, in January.

In Manila on Tuesday, about 80 activists protested at the Chinese consulate, demanding that China stop intruding into Philippine territory in the South China Sea. An activist wrote anti-China slogans using a spray paint on the steps leading to the building housing the consulate. A security officer tried to stop him but was overwhelmed by the activists.

Territorial disputes will be a thorny issue when President Barack Obama this week visits Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines, all of which have a dispute with Beijing over islands and waters in the South and East China seas.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and other U.S. officials have warned China against the use of military force, but has not taken sides in the territorial rifts.

Related:

A Filipino protester holds placards with slogans during a rally outside the Chinese consulate at the financial district of Makati, south of Manila, Philippines on Tuesday, April 22, 2014. The group is demanding an end to China’s alleged incursions in the South China Sea and to press the Chinese government to respect the arbitral process under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

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A Filipino woman protester holds a placard with slogans during a rally outside the Chinese consulate at the financial district of Makati, south of Manila, Philippines on Tuesday, April 22, 2014. The group is demanding an end to China’s alleged incursions in the South China Sea and to press the Chinese government to respect the arbitral process under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

In this photo taken March 29, 2014, an aerial view shows a Philippines Navy vessel that has been grounded since 1999 to assert the nations sovereignty over the Second Thomas Shoal, a remote South China Sea reef also claimed by China//AFP

 

In this photo taken March 29, 2014, an aerial view shows a Philippines Navy vessel BRP Sierra Madre that has been grounded since 1999 to assert the nations sovereignty over the Second Thomas Shoal, a remote South China Sea reef also claimed by China.  AFP

Chinese patrol vessel in the South China Sea, the “Haixun 31″

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A China Coast Guard ship (top) and a Philippine supply boat engage in a stand off as the Philippine boat attempts to reach the Second Thomas Shoal, a remote South China Sea a reef claimed by both countries, on March 29, 2014 (AFP Photo/Jay Directo )

 

China views the South China Sea and East China Sea as vital areas with “must have” resources. And China also wants to control the maritime domain to protect the free movement of what it needs from the sea — even in a crisis or war.

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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