South China Sea: Chinese coastguard ‘drove off’ Filipinos in latest run-in at disputed Scarborough Shoal

South China Sea: Chinese coastguard ‘drove off’ Filipinos in latest run-in at disputed Scarborough Shoal

The Chinese coastguard says it “drove off” four Filipinos from a disputed shoal in the South China Sea, the latest run-in between the two nations over the rich fishing waters.

In a statement released late on Tuesday, the coastguard claimed the Filipinos had “illegally intruded into” Scarborough Shoal on Sunday, without saying if the four people were on a fishing boat.

Spokesman Gan Yu said the coastguard had “issued a warning and drove them off in accordance with the law, in a professional and standard manner”.

“China has indisputable sovereignty over Huangyan Island and its adjacent waters and has always resolutely countered the infringing acts of the Philippine side,” he said, using the Chinese name for the shoal.

He said the coastguard “will, as always, safeguard and enforce its rights and interests in the waters under China’s jurisdiction, and resolutely defend national sovereignty and maritime rights and interests”.

China’s expansive claims over most of the South China Sea are contested by neighbouring countries, including the Philippines.

The latest confrontation comes less than two weeks after Beijing and Manila agreed to manage their disputes in the South China Sea during talks in Shanghai on January 17.

China’s statement on the incident was also released hours after the Philippines and Vietnam agreed to expand cooperation between their coastguards when Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jnr was in Hanoi on Tuesday. Like the Philippines, Vietnam has territorial disputes with China in the South China Sea and is a vocal critic of its vast claims to the waters.

The Chinese coastguard also released a video it said was filmed on a vessel involved in Sunday’s confrontation. The footage shows an officer issuing a radio warning in both Chinese and English.

“You have severely interfered with our sovereignty and security of China and severely violated international law and the laws of the People’s Republic of China,” he says. “Stop your illegal access and leave this area.”

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Scarborough Shoal is a traditional fishing area for both China and the Philippines. Photo: AFP

Scarborough Shoal – a triangle-shaped chain of reefs and rocks in the middle of the South China Sea – is a traditional fishing area for both countries. It is located about 120 nautical miles west of the Philippine island of Luzon and 594 nautical miles from China’s Hainan Island.

China took control of Scarborough Shoal after a tense stand-off between Chinese and Philippine ships in 2012, an incident that prompted Manila to launch an international arbitration case over their disputes in the South China Sea. Four years later, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague dismissed Beijing’s sweeping claims over the waterway – though China did not take part in the process and has rejected the ruling.

Tensions over Scarborough Shoal were reignited in September after the Chinese coastguard installed a floating barrier to stop Philippine fishing boats from entering its lagoon, a prime fishing patch. The Philippine coastguard said it had removed the barrier, but the Chinese coastguard later said it had dismantled the barrier voluntarily.

‘I just laughed at them’: the Filipino fishermen facing off against China

In December, the Philippines accused China’s coastguard of using water cannon to “obstruct” three government boats delivering fuel and food supplies to Philippine fishing vessels near Scarborough Shoal. China claimed the boats had “intruded” into the waters.

Filipino fishermen also told Manila’s coastguard they had been driven away from Scarborough Shoal by the Chinese coastguard earlier this month and ordered to dump their catch at sea.

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