PHL files diplomatic protest over Chinese incursions in WPS

May 21, 2013 10:12 pm 

MANILA, May 21 -– The Philippine government has protested what it calls “provocative and illegal presence” of two Chinese surveillance vessels and a military ship within its exclusive economic zone in the West Philippine Sea and called on Beijing to respect Manila’s sovereignty over its waters.

In a provocative move that could spike tensions anew between Manila and Beijing, two Chinese maritime surveillance ships and a warship were spotted off Ayungin Shoal, which Manila says is within its territorial waters.

The government ships appeared to have accompanied some 30 Chinese fishing vessels which are scattered in Ayungin Shoal, the Kalayaan Island Group and the Mischief Reef – a rich fishing ground within Philippine territory but came under Chinese control in 1995.

“On May 10, 2013, we have filed with the Chinese Embassy in Manila our protest on the provocative and illegal presence of the Chinese government ships around Ayungin Shoal,” Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez said. “Ayungin Shoal is an integral part of our national territory.”

The shoal, Hernandez said, is located 105.77 nautical miles from the nearest Philippine province of Palawan and constitutes part of the country’s 200-nautical mile continental shelf as provided under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

UNCLOS is a 1982 accord by 163 countries that aims to govern the use of offshore areas and sets territorial limits of coastal states. The Philippines and China are both signatories to the treaty.

The Chinese fishing vessels continue to roam around Philippine waters.

“They are still there and they go around the place,” Hernandez said.

It was not clear if these vessels are part of the Chinese flotilla of fishing crafts that were deployed early this month to scour the South China Sea for fish and other resources.

“We have already sent communications (to China) on this,” Hernandez said. “We have already told them our position regarding these vessels which have intruded into our exclusive economic zone. The resources in our EEZs are meant for the Filipino people.”

This is not the first time that China has encroached in Philippine waters. China has stationed government vessels in the Scarborough Shoal or Bajo de Masinloc, another Philippine-claimed feature in the West Philippine Sea where Manila and Beijing figured in a dangerous standoff last year. China has roped off Scarborough and prevented Filipino fishermen access and shelter to shoal’s vast lagoon.

The South China Sea- a strategic waterway where a bulk of the world's trade pass and believed to be rich in oil and natural gas – had been a source of conflict among competing claimants — the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, China and Taiwan. Analysts feared the competing claims could spark a military conflict in the region.

China claims the waters nearly in its entirety, citing historical entitlements as the basis for its huge claim, which Manila branded as “excessive and a violation of international law.”

The Philippines challenged this claim before a United Nations arbitral tribunal, where a resolution is pending. (PNA)

FPV/MDC/UTB

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