Beijing’s embassy here hit out at the Philippines on Monday for what it called “false accusations” about a new law allowing the Chinese coast guard to use force in South China Sea waters claimed by the Asian superpower.
In a statement on its Facebook page, the Chinese Embassy in Manila said its Coast Guard Law had been “misinterpreted” and was “a normal domestic legislative activity.”
It also claimed that “forces in the Philippines” had “fabricated and spread relentlessly fake news” about the China Coast Guard harassing Filipino fishermen, and “sensationalized” the entry of a Chinese scientific survey ship into Philippine waters as an “intrusion.”
The Philippines last week filed a diplomatic protest against China, with Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. saying that while enacting a law was usually a sovereign prerogative, this law had implications that affected other nations with claims in the disputed South China Sea.
This law, “given the area involved or for that matter the open South China Sea – is a verbal threat of war to any country that defies the law; which, if unchallenged, is submission to it,” Locsin said.
Gregory Poling, a senior fellow at the Washington think Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the law was vague.
Beijing’s “vague definition of Chinese waters … makes it likely that the law will be used as an excuse for further coercion off the shores of Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines,” he told VnExpress news site on Friday.
China claims nearly the entire South China Sea, including waters within the exclusive economic zones of Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan. While Indonesia does not regard itself as party to the South China Sea dispute, Beijing claims historic rights to parts of that sea overlapping Indonesia's exclusive economic zone as well.
‘No storm, or strong waves’
Meanwhile, the Chinese Embassy said its research ship was “seeking humanitarian shelter in Philippine waters due to unfavorable weather and sea conditions in the Pacific.”
However, a Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) spokesman told news site Inquirer.net on Monday that Jia Geng, the Chinese ship, entered Philippine waters without Philippine government clearance.
The Department of Foreign Affairs told PCG that the Chinese embassy requested diplomatic clearance on Jan. 29 for the ship to take shelter due to bad weather, but at the time, there was no storm nor were there strong waves in the area, the spokesman was quoted as saying.
The Chinese ship also refused to allow PCG personnel on board to inspect it, citing COVID-19 restrictions, the spokesman said.
It has since left the area – Cabugao Bay in Bato, Catanduanes – escorted by an Islander plane to oversee its departure from Philippine waters, the report said.
Separately, a Filipino fisherman, Larry Hugo, last week accused CCG of driving fishermen away while they were fishing near the Philippine-occupied Pag-asa Island, which is also called Thitu.
The Western Command Armed Forces of the Philippines said, however, that “there was no reported incident of blocking or harassment” by a CCG vessel at the time Hugo claimed the incident occurred.
WESCOM said that a CCG vessel was indeed in the area but it was “improbable” it blocked fishermen where Hugo claimed this happened because “the water in between the two cays are too shallow for any ship to venture without risking running aground.”
In June 2018, a widely circulated TV video caught members of the China Coast Guard confiscating the catch of Filipino fishermen near a disputed shoal within Manila’s exclusive economic zone.
Romel Cejuela, one of the fishermen who appeared in the video, said Scarborough Shoal was a traditional fishing ground but the Chinese coast guard “started blocking our path and then completely prevented us from fishing,” beginning in 2012.
“We can only fish in the perimeter. We’ve tried going in (but) you’ve heard that they water canon the boats. They chase us with big boats,” Cejuela said. “Since then, we don’t dare go in.”
Reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.