Philippines protests China fishing ban in South China Sea

The Philippines said on Tuesday, May 18, that it has protested China's imposing a fishing moratorium until August 16 over the South China Sea, asserting it “does not recognize” the ban that included waters under Philippine jurisdiction.

In an official statement, the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said China’s annual fishing ban extended “far beyond” Beijing’s maritime entitlements afforded to it under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and that “China cannot legally impose nor legally enforce such a moratorium in the West Philippine Sea.”

“The Philippines does not recognize China's unilateral imposition of a fishing moratorium in the South China Sea for the period 01 May to 16 August 2021,” the DFA said, adding the country’s protest had been filed May 17.

In an official statement, the DFA pointed out China’s unilateral imposition of the fishing moratorium breached Article 56 of UNCLOS with respect to the country’s sovereign rights over living resources in its exclusive economic zone, which had been affirmed by the Philippines’ arbitral award won against China in 2016.

“According to Paragraph 716 of the Award of the South China Sea Arbitration rendered on 12 July 2016, China, by promulgating its moratorium on fishing in the South China Sea, ‘without exception for areas of the South China Sea falling within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines and without limiting the moratorium to Chinese flagged vessels, breached Article 56 of the 1982 UNCLOS with respect to the Philippines' sovereign rights over the living resources of its exclusive economic zone,’” it said. 

The 2016 Hague ruling, DFA said, likewise affirmed the traditional and legitimate fishing rights of Filipino fishermen. 

“The Philippines strongly urges China to desist from any action and activity that infringes on Philippine sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction, in contravention of international law,” it added. 

China’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs had earlier announced the start of the annual fishing ban in the South China Sea from May 1 until August 16, 2021. The ban, which was imposed every year since 1999, covered waters "north of 12 degrees north latitude" in the South China Sea as well other waters off China. 

Diplomatic action

The Philippines’ latest protest comes as President Rodrigo Duterte has spotlighted the Philippines’ dispute against China in the West Philippine Sea in recent days, lashing out at critics who scored his administration’s China policy and restricting Cabinet officials allowed to publicly speak on the issue. 

Duterte has come under intense scrutiny over the past few weeks for his lame response to China’s incursion in the West Philippine Sea, with critics calling out his inconsistent statements and defeatist stance on the issue. The President has also often tried to put the blame for the Philippines’ dispute with China on previous administrations. He has repeated in televised briefings that the Philippines was limited in asserting its rights in the area because China had more military and economic might – an argument debunked by experts and the academe. 

Before the Philippines’ protest, the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea encouraged Filipino fishermen to continue fishing in the area, saying China’s fishing ban “does not apply to our fishermen.”

Tensions between the two countries have recently escalated after Manila called out the “illegal lingering presence” of hundreds of Chinese ships in the West Philippine Sea it believed were manned by Beijing’s maritime militia. 

Since April 5, the Philippines has likewise filed daily diplomatic protests against China over the illegal presence of its ships in Julian Felipe Reef (Whitsun Reef), despite repeated and regular demands from defense officials and diplomats to withdraw. – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs and is the lead reporter on the coronavirus pandemic. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter via @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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