DFA protests research ship harassment, fishing ban in country’s EEZ
The government on Tuesday said it summoned a senior Chinese Embassy official back in April to protest the harassment of a Philippine research in the West Philippine Sea, and rejected a unilateral fishing ban declared by Beijing in waters where the Philippines exercises sovereign rights and jurisdiction.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) issued the statement after Washington-based Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) reported that Chinese Coast Guard and militia, in three months, harassed Filipino vessels in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the West Philippine Sea.
The DFA said the presence of the Chinese coast guard vessels around Reed Bank was not consistent with innocent passage and “are clear violations of Philippine maritime jurisdiction where only the Philippine government has the mandate of enforcement.”
“The detailed reports of these activities are being reviewed for the filing of appropriate diplomatic action,” the department said.
Only the Philippine Coast Guard has “enforcement jurisdiction over these waters,” the DFA said.
The Chinese Embassy in Manila has not yet issued a statement on the matter.
“The Department summoned a senior official of the Chinese Embassy in Manila to protest the harassment by CCG on RV Legend, which had been conducting an authorized marine scientific research (MSR) activity, with Philippine scientists on board,” the DFA said.
It did not provide further details but said the activity was led by the University of the Philippines-National Institute of Geological Sciences.
In a May 26 report, the AMTI said RV Legend was shadowed by Chinese Coast Guard vessel 5203 at a distance of two to three nautical miles while conducting research about 60 nautical miles northwest of Luzon on March 24.
Taipei responded on March 25 by dispatching its own coast guard vessel from Taiwan-occupied Pratas Island.
AMTI said Taiwan’s 5001 maneuvered to keep the Chinese vessel away from RV Legend for the next two days, with the vessels “in some instances coming within 1,000 meters of each other.”
Apart from this, AMTI reported two separate incidents of CCG vessels challenging marine research and hydrocarbon exploration activities within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the South China Sea.
The DFA confirmed the “presence of foreign coast guard vessels” around Reed Bank and in the vicinity of the Philippine-approved activities around Service Contracts No. 75 and 72.
At the same time, the DFA said it does not recognize China’s fishing moratorium from May 1 to Aug. 16 as it covers waters in areas where the Philippines exercises “sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction.”
Beijing imposed the three-and-a-half-month fishing moratorium “in areas of the South China Sea north of the 12 degrees North latitude.”
“In a diplomatic note dated 30 May 2022, the DFA conveyed its protest to the moratorium, which covers areas in the West Philippine Sea over which the Philippines has sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction,” the DFA said.
The DFA cited Paragraph 716 of the Award of the South China Sea Arbitration rendered on July 12, 2016 by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, Netherlands which states that any Chinese fishing moratorium in the South China Sea that includes the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone is illegal.
“The Philippines calls on China to comply with its obligations under international law, particularly the 1982 UNCLOS and the final and binding Award on the South China Sea Arbitration; cease and desist from the conduct of illegal actions that violate the Philippines’ sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction in its maritime zones; and adhere to its commitments under the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC),” the DFA said.
The United Nations-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Netherlands, which ruled in favor of the Philippines, also upheld the traditional and legitimate fishing rights of Filipino fishermen.
“The declaration of a moratorium on fishing that extends to the West Philippine Sea has no basis in law, and undermines the mutual trust, confidence, and respect that should underpin bilateral relations, as affirmed most recently by President Rodrigo R. Duterte and President Xi Jinping during their Telesummit on 08 April 2022,” the DFA said.
China has rejected the 2016 international tribunal ruling and maintained historic rights over 90 percent of the South China Sea — a major shipping route and said to be harboring rich oil and gas reserves.
Aside from the Philippines and China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have overlapping claims over the resource-rich waters.