Manila tells fishermen to ignore Beijing’s ban amid incursions

Philippines says fishing moratorium between May 1 to August 16 imposed by China since 1999 does not apply to Filipino fishermen.

Philippine Coast Guard personnel survey several ships believed to be Chinese militia vessels in Sabina Shoal in the South China Sea, in a handout photo distributed by the Philippine Coast Guard on Wednesday [Philippine Coast Guard via Reuters]

The Philippines has rejected an annual summer fishing ban imposed by China in the disputed South China Sea and encouraged its boats to keep fishing in the country’s territorial waters, as Manila reported on Wednesday the latest incursions of Chinese vessels on its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

The fishing moratorium imposed by China since 1999 runs from May 1 to August 16 and covers areas of the South China Sea as well as other waters off China.

“This fishing ban does not apply to our fishermen,” the Philippines’ South China Sea task force said in a statement late on Tuesday.

The task force opposed China’s imposition of the ban over the areas within the territory and jurisdiction of the Philippines, adding “our fisherfolk are encouraged to go out and fish in our waters in the WPS (West Philippine Sea).”

The Chinese embassy in Manila did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.

Manila, which refers to the area within its EEZ as the West Philippine Sea, has for years been embroiled in a dispute over Beijing’s sweeping claims of sovereignty over the entire South China Sea.

An international tribunal at The Hague in 2016 invalidated China’s claims, but China has rejected the ruling.

‘Maritime militia’

Tensions between the two countries have recently escalated after Manila accused China of territorial incursions by hundreds of its vessels in the resource-rich waterway.

The Philippines has filed diplomatic protests against China over what it calls the “illegal” presence of hundreds of Chinese vessels, which it says are “maritime militia”.

Chinese diplomats have said the boats were just sheltering from rough seas and no militia were aboard.

In its latest statement, the Philippines’ South China Sea task force said on Wednesday it spotted seven “Chinese maritime militia” at the Sabina shoal in the disputed Spratly archipelago on April 27, which dispersed after being challenged by the Philippine coast guard.

Five returned two days later but left after the Philippine coast guard arrived, it said. Sabina shoal is around 130 nautical miles from the western Philippine island of Palawan.

“The Philippines is not deterred from defending our national interest, patrimony, and our dignity as a people with all that we have,” the task force said.

The latest reported incursions have prompted an expletive-laden social media outburst by the Philippines’ Secretary of Foreign Affairs Teodoro Locsin Jr, who on Monday demanded that China’s vessels leave the country’s waters.

“China, my friend, how politely can I put it? Let me see… O… GET THE F*** OUT,” Locsin Jr wrote on Twitter.

In response, Beijing urged Manila to observe “basic etiquette” and eschew megaphone diplomacy.

“Facts have repeatedly proved that microphone diplomacy cannot change the facts, but can only undermine mutual trust,” it said.

Locsin later apologised for his statement, but clarified that it was only addressed to his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, not to China.

Once-frosty ties between the Philippines, a US ally, and China had warmed under President Rodrigo Duterte, who set aside The Hague ruling in exchange for promises of trade and investment that critics say have largely not materialised.

On Monday night, Duterte reiterated his assertion that Manila owes Beijing a debt of gratitude, saying China “remains to be our benefactor”.

“Just because we have a conflict with China, doesn’t have to mean that we have to be rude and disrespectful.”

Source: Al Jazeera, Reuters