China protests against Philippines arresting Hainan fishermen
The dispute – which the two countries said will be resolved diplomatically – is a sign of rising maritime tension and reflects China’s determination to protect its interests, analysts said.
The attempt at "law enforcement" by the Philippines in the waters of Huangyan Island on the South China Sea "infringed China’s sovereignty", Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said on Wednesday.
"We made solemn representations to Manila on the Philippine warship and surveillance vessels harassing China’s fishing boats and fishermen in a lagoon in China’s Huangyan Island in the South China Sea," he said.
The Chinese embassy in Manila received a report on Tuesday that 12 Chinese fishing boats which sailed into the waters of Huangyan Island to shelter from bad weather were challenged by a Philippine navy warship.
Twelve sailors from the warship, six of whom were armed, boarded the Chinese vessels and harassed the fishermen, the embassy said. The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs also confirmed the boarding of the dispatched team in a news release.
Two Chinese surveillance ships, Haijian 75 and Haijian 84, on routine patrol, arrived and prevented the Philippines from detaining the boats and the fishermen.
The two patrol ships are still monitoring the waters and "fulfilling duties to guard China’s maritime rights and interests", according to the State Oceanic Administration.
The Chinese fishing boats are from Hainan province in southern China, and the crew members are now "safe and calm", the State Oceanic Administration said on its website.
The Chinese embassy urged Manila to stop illegal activities that violate China’s sovereignty and demanded that the warship leaves the waters.
Some countries intensified efforts to claim sovereignty over some islands on the South China Sea in recent years, partly because of the rich natural maritime resources, analysts said.
China opposed countries exploring for oil and gas without first getting permission from China, Deng Zhonghua, director of the department of boundary and ocean affairs with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said on Tuesday.
Beijing’s decision to send patrol vessels demonstrates China’s presence in the area, said Zhang Tuosheng, an expert of international relations at the China Foundation for International and Strategic Studies. "China’s patrols will be more frequent," he said.
The Chinese embassy said communication on the incident is continuing with Manila’s foreign ministry.
Beijing reiterated that Huangyan Island has been China’s territory for centuries.
Manila’s move breached a consensus reached by both countries on sustaining the peace and stability of the South China Sea, Liu said.
Former Philippine president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo signed a bill in 2009, which claimed Huangyan Island and the Nansha Islands as the country’s territory, despite strong protests from China.
Manila said on Wednesday it agreed with China that the incident should be resolved diplomatically.
Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario met with Ma Keqing, China’s ambassador to the Philippines.
"I think the possibility of the use of force is out of the question," del Rosario told reporters, saying the president "is very clear that he wants a diplomatic solution to be in place".
Yang Baoyun, a professor of Southeast Asian studies at Peking University, said neither of the countries wanted to fan tensions.
AP, AFP and Xinhua contributed to this story.
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