Philippines Condemns Chinese ‘Floating Barrier’ in South China Sea

By Reuters
September 24, 2023Asia & Pacific

MANILA—The Philippines on Sunday accused China’s coast guard of installing a “floating barrier” within its exclusive economic zones, which the Chinese Communist Party is claiming as part of its territory in the South China Sea. The Philippines said the barrier is preventing Filipinos from entering and fishing in the area.

Manila’s coast guard and Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources “strongly condemn” China’s installation of the barrier in part of the Scarborough Shoal, Commodore Jay Tarriela, a coast guard spokesperson, posted on the X social media platform, formerly Twitter.

The barrier blocking fishermen from the shoal was depriving them of their fishing and livelihood activities,” he said.

“The (Philippine Coast Guard) will continue to work closely with all concerned government agencies to address these challenges, uphold our maritime rights and protect our maritime domains,” Mr. Tarriela said.

Chinese fishermen
Chinese fishermen head to the shoal to fish at the disputed Scarborough Shoal on April 6, 2017. (Erik De Castro/Reuters)

The Chinese embassy in Manila did not immediately reply to requests for comment.

China is laying claim 90 percent of the South China Sea, overlapping with the exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia and the Philippines. Beijing unilaterally seized the Scarborough Shoal in 2012 and forced fishermen from the Philippines to travel further for smaller catches.

Beijing allowed Filipino fishermen to return to the uninhabited shoal when bilateral relations were improving markedly under then-President Rodrigo Duterte. But tension has mounted again since his successor, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., took office last year.

Rodrigo Duterte
Philippine’s President Rodrigo Duterte speaks during the 120th Philippine Independence day celebration at the Emilio Aguinaldo shrine in Kawit, Cavite Philippines, on June 12, 2018. (Erik De Castro/Reuters)

Philippine coast guard and fisheries bureau personnel discovered the floating barrier, estimated at 300 m (1,000 feet) long, on a routine patrol on Friday near the shoal, locally known as Bajo de Masinloc, Mr. Tarriela said.

Three Chinese coast guard rigid-hull inflatable boats and a Chinese maritime militia service boat installed the barrier when the Philippine vessel arrived, he said.

Filipino fishermen say China typically installs such barriers when they monitor a large number of fishermen in the area, Mr. Tarriela said.

The Chinese boats issued 15 radio challenges and accused the Philippine ship and fishermen of violating international and China’s laws, before moving away “upon realizing the presence of media personnel onboard the (Filipino) vessel,” he said.

However, Beijing’s maritime claims have been found to be in violation of international law as reflected in the 1982 U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), according to the Hague in its 2016 decision which ruled against Beijing’s claims.

The UNCLOS designates maritime areas within 200 nautical miles of coastal nations’ borders as part of their EEZs. China is a signatory to the UNCLOS.

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