South China Sea: Philippines slams Beijing’s fishermen-blocking ‘floating barrier’ in Scarborough Shoal

The Philippines on Sunday accused China’s coastguard of installing a “floating barrier” in a disputed area of the South China Sea, saying it prevented Filipinos from entering and fishing in the area.

Manila’s coastguard 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 coastguard 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 coastguard] will continue to work closely with all concerned government agencies to address these challenges, uphold our maritime rights and protect our maritime domains,” Tarriela said.

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China claims 90 per cent of the South China Sea, overlapping with the exclusive economic zones of Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia and the Philippines. Beijing 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 Jnr, took office last year.

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

Three Chinese coastguard 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, Tarriela said.


Beijing faces backlash from neighbours over expanded territorial claims in new official map

Beijing faces backlash from neighbours over expanded territorial claims in new official map

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 realising the presence of media personnel on board the [Filipino] vessel”, he said.

As the maritime discord over the resource-rich waterway remained elevated, Philippine Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo said his country, Japan and the United States have forged a trilateral alliance against Chinese incursions in the sea.

“The Philippines, as you are aware, continues to face challenges with sovereign rights and jurisdiction in the West Philippine Sea or South China Sea,” Manalo said during a meeting with Japanese Foreign Minister Kamikawa Yoko and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly this week.

The West Philippine Sea is the term used by Manila to describe the eastern parts of the South China Sea that are within its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and territorial waters.

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“The three countries will continue to call out behaviour that is inconsistent with international law, including the [People’s Republic of China’s] recent actions near Second Thomas Shoal that interfered with the Philippines’ lawful exercise of high seas freedom of navigation,” Department of State spokesperson Matthew Miller said.

Manalo added that in addition to Beijing’s aggressive tactics, including blasting Philippine vessels with water cannons, the Southeast Asian nation also took an economic hit due to “challenges to our ability to benefit from the resources in our EEZ.”

Meanwhile, Defence Secretary Gilberto Teodoro accused Beijing of “hypocrisy” for claiming the rusting warship BRP Sierra Madre grounded in an outcrop had polluted the South China Sea, the Philippine Daily Inquirer reported.

“The statement of China that the grounded Sierra Madre is causing irrevocable harm is to put it as politely as possible – hypocritical,” Teodoro said.

China’s statement about the ship “will only heighten the mistrust by the Filipino people and the rest of the world of the Chinese government,” he said.

A Philippine fishing boat (right) being intercepted by a Chinese coastguard vessel as it tried to enter Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea. Photo: AFP

His response came after China’s foreign ministry this week said the Philippines should tow away the vessel and stop it from discharging polluted water into the ocean.

The Philippines intentionally grounded the ship in 1999 to reinforce its sovereignty claim to Second Thomas Shoal, which Manila calls Ayungin.

Additional reporting by SCMP’s Asia desk


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