MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Tuesday, February 25, protested the Chinese coast guard’s alleged firing of a water cannon at Filipino fishermen at a disputed shoal.
The DFA said it summoned the Chinese embassy’s chargé d’affaires on Tuesday morning “to strongly protest the efforts of China to prohibit Filipino fishermen from undertaking fishing activities in the Philippines’ Bajo de Masinloc.”
It said various forms of harassment happened in 9 other instances last year, even in stormy weather. (READ: ‘Even during storms, China harassed Filipinos’)
“The department vehemently protests the acts of China when its law enforcement vessels drove away Philippine fishing vessels seeking shelter in the Philippines’ Bajo de Masinloc during inclement weather,” DFA spokesman Raul Hernandez said.
In a statement Tuesday afternoon, the Chinese embassy rejected the Philippine protest.
“China has indisputable sovereignty over South China Sea Islands and their adjacent waters, Huangyan Island included. Chinese government vessels are conducting regular patrols within China’s jurisdiction,” the Chinese embassy said.
“The Chinese side does not accept the so-called ‘protest’ by the Philippine side. We urge the Philippine side to work with the Chinese side to resolve differences through bilateral consultations and negotiations,” it added.
Earlier, President Benigno Aquino III said the DFA had been asked to file a “diplomatic message,” a day after the Philippines’ military chief told reporters of the incident at Scarborough Shoal – the subject of a bitter territorial row in the South China Sea.
“The first step would be a diplomatic message…directed at the People’s Republic of China to ask them to explain what this incident was all about, what their intentions are,” Aquino told reporters, when asked whether a formal protest would be lodged.
Aquino also demanded an explanation from China Tuesday, February 25, over a report its coast guard had fired a water cannon at Filipino fishermen at a disputed shoal.
Scarborough Shoal is a rocky outcrop, considered by Filipinos a traditional fishing ground, and which lies just 220 km (135 miles) off the main Philippine island of Luzon. It is about 650 km from Hainan island, the nearest major Chinese land mass.
The South China Sea is one of the world’s most important waterways, home to vital shipping lanes and believed to sit atop lucrative mineral deposits.
Both sides engaged in a tense standoff in the area in April 2012, which ended with the Philippines retreating from the shoal.
Aquino acknowledged that Philippine security officials were “not sure at this point in time” whether spraying a water cannon at Filipino fishermen was a standard operating procedure by Chinese vessels in the area.
“We don’t want to react to a one-off incident,” Aquino said.
Aquino said that as of Monday, February 24, there were Filipino fishermen at the shoal “who were not being harassed or intimidated by any entity.”
Philippine armed forces chief General Emmanuel Bautista said the incident occurred on January 27, although he did not divulge further details and it was not clear whether any Filipinos were hurt.
China on Monday refused to directly respond to the allegations, insisting only that it had “indisputable sovereignty” over the area.
China claims most of the South China Sea on historical grounds, including waters near the coasts of its neighbors.
The Philippines, along with Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam also have competing claims to parts of the sea, and the rivalries have been a source of tension for decades.
Last year, Manila asked a United Nations arbitration tribunal to rule on the validity of China’s claim to most of the sea, but Beijing has rejected the process. – with reports from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com