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Philippines urges its fishermen to keep up presence at China-held shoal

Manila [Philippines], September 29 (ANI): The Philippine Coast Guard has called upon the country's fishermen to continue their operations in the disputed Scarborough Shoal and other locations within the South China Sea, The Straits Times reported.

Despite a significant Chinese presence in these areas, the Philippine Coast Guard has pledged to increase patrols to protect the rights of Filipino fishermen within the country's exclusive economic zone (EEZ), The Straits Times quoted Commodore Jay Tarriela, the coast guard's spokesperson as saying.

The Straits Times is a Singaporean daily English-language newspaper.

"We're going to increase patrols in Bajo de Masinloc and other areas where Filipino fishermen are," he told DZRH radio, referring to the shoal, one of Asia's most contested maritime features, by its Philippine name.

On Monday, the coast guard cut a 300m floating barrier installed by China that blocked access to the Scarborough Shoal, a bold response in an area Beijing has controlled for more than a decade with coast guard ships and a fleet of large fishing vesselsThe Straits Times reported.

China's Foreign Ministry had earlier advised the Philippines to avoid provocations and not cause trouble, but on Wednesday, its spokesman Wang Wenbin took a more critical view.

"I would also like to reiterate once again: Huangyan Island is China's inherent territory," he told a regular briefing. "The so-called operation of the Philippine side is a purely self-indulgent farce"The Straits Times reported. The rocky, midsea outcrop is the site of numerous diplomatic rows. Both countries claim sovereignty over the shoal, a prime fishing spot about 200km off the Philippines, and 850km from mainland China and its southern island of Hainan.

Close to shipping lanes that transport an estimated US$3.4 trillion (S$4.66 trillion) of annual commerce, control of the shoal is strategic for Beijing, which claims sovereignty over most of the South China Sea.

Commodore Tarriela said the Philippine fisheries bureau had successfully anchored a vessel just 300m from the Scarborough Shoal's lagoon, its closest point to the atoll since China seized it in 2012.

Manila has been amongst the handful of nations that have stood up to China's assertive behaviour in the volatile region, reported The HK Post.

Since its assertion in the South China Sea, China has prevented the Philippines from initiating oil and gas developmental projects and has limited Manila's fishing expeditions in the disputed region.

Moreover, China's forceful assertion over the waters has included Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) formed by the Philippines thus leading to a case for arbitral proceedings against China's obnoxious claims, it added.

The decision of the tribunal has since then been rejected by China, which went against Chinese claims over the region. Far less from easing tensions, China has been intensifying its forceful assertiveness over the South China Sea provoking diplomatic tensions between the two nations, reported The HK Post.

The geographically strategic region of the South China sea encompasses 3.5 million sq km of area and is adjoined by seven nations including the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam and China. It presents the shortest shipping route between the Indian Ocean and Northeast Asia, thus signifying its strategic value.

The Philippines have claimed that China, in its attempt to allegedly alter the status quo, has developed disputed reefs into artificial islands with permanent structures.

The artificial islands in the debate around China's hegemonic aspirations have been understood to be fortified as military bases over not only international waters but much worse, over sovereign waterways of the Philippines state, the report said.This unilateral alteration of persisting understandings is in clear violation of the sovereignty of China's neighbouring countries, it added.

The dispute with the Philippines in particular has been aggressive, especially with regard to the Spratly Islands and the Scarborough Shoal, over which Beijing claims territorial dominance, reported The HK Post.

Chinese maritime forces have been accused of igniting conflicts with their Filipino counterparts by regularly harassing fishing boats and fishermen from the Philippines over the unilaterally invoked disputed region.

The Chinese navy has also been blockading supply dispatched for BRP Sierra Madre, a World War II-era warship, which currently serves as an outpost of the Philippine Marine Corps to assert its sovereignty over the disputed ownership of the Spratly Islands, the report claimed.

Most recently, the Philippines military claimed that the Chinese coast guard forcibly seized Chinese rocket debris that the Filipino navy had recovered from the South China Sea near the Thithu islands. In order to subvert the issue, Chinese officials had claimed that no such seizure was conducted, reported The HK Post.

The incident occurred hours prior to a historic visit by Kamala Harris, US Vice President, to the Philippines for increased security cooperation talks between the two long-term allies.

More so, the Thithu islands, which is also referred to as Pagasa, is home to a large Filipino fishing community and is located very close to Subi, which is one of the seven disputed reefs in the South China Sea.

Such unilateral actions in the form of the altercation between the coast guard and navy of the two countries can be predicted to have taken shape in light of Filipino President, Ferdinand Marcos Jr's visit to China that was underway very recently.

Such brazen acts of aggression have also been contested by the Philippine government and rebutted diplomatically by filing protests against China over aggressive actions in the South China Sea while also vehemently rejecting Chinese claims of its sovereign territory, the report claimed. (ANI)