THE 11 Chinese poachers who were arrested Tuesday at Hasa Hasa Shoal, 60 miles off Palawan, will not be released immediately as Beijing has demanded but will be held for trial, the Palace said Thursday
“The action taken by the Philippine National Police in apprehending a foreign fishing vessel and a local fishing boat is in accordance with its duty to enforce environment protection and wildlife conservation laws while upholding Philippine sovereign rights over our exclusive economic zone,” Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma said.
“As pointed out by the Department of Foreign Affairs, relevant authorities in Palawan will address this case in a just, humane, and expeditious manner,” Coloma said, referring to China’s diplomatic response to the arrest of the fishermen.
This developed as Japan said it was “deeply worried” by China’s behavior in a similar maritime dispute with Vietnam which sparked fears of escalation in the South China Sea with Hanoi saying it was prepared to act on Beijing’s “provocation” of putting up an oil drilling rig in disputed waters.
PNP spokesman Supt. Reuben Sindac said the 15-ton Chinese boat, piloted by Chen Hi-quan, was intercepted off Liminakong in Taytay, Palawan Tuesday.
The vessel was found to be carrying hundreds of turtles which are protected by Philippine laws.
Sindac said the authorities found 120 live turtle and 234 dead turtles on board the Chinese vessel.
A Filipino boat, piloted by a certain Banto Amlain with four crewmen, was also found loaded with 40 live turtles near the Chinese vessel.
Sindac said they could not yet determine where the Filipinos were working with the Chinese fishermen, but they were all brought to the Puerto Princesa City police headquarters where they were detained pending the filing of criminal charges.
China angrily responded that it had “undisputable sovereignty” over the Half Moon Shoal, which it calls the Ban Yue Reef, and urged the Philippines to “stop taking further provocative action.”
The Chinese Embassy on Thursday lodged a protest against the arrest of the Chinese fishermen and the seizure of their boats.
In a statement, Chinese embassy spokesman Zhang Hua also urged the Philippines to release the boat and its crew “immediately” as it “severely violates China’s sovereignty and maritime rights” in the disputed West Philippine Sea.
He added that the Philippine action could create more tension in the disputed sea and damage bilateral relations between Manila and Beijing.
The Department of Foreign Affairs said the government would leave the case to the courts to decide.
“We will just let the judicial process take its course in this case,” DFA spokesman Charles Jose said.
He also reminded China that the Philippine is just enforcing maritime law and upholding its sovereign rights over the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines.
“The seizing of the Chinese fishing boat, carrying large numbers of endangered species, and the apprehension of its crew by the Philippine National Police Maritime Group Special Boat Unit were undertaken as actions to enforce maritime laws and to uphold Philippine sovereign rights over its EEZ,” Jose said.
Philippine officials also disputed China’s claim that police chasing the fishermen had fired upon them.
“I don’t know where China got their information,” Chief Supt Noel Vargas, police commander of the Mimaropa police office.
At a press briefing, Vargas reiterated that his men fired no shots at the Chinese fishing vessel skippered by Chen Hi Quan before it was intercepted and eventually caught 59 nautical miles west of the municipality of Rizal, Palawan.
“As far as the PNP is concerned, we didn’t fire a shot,” said Vargas.
The state-owned Chinese news agency Xinhua reported the incident as an attack by Filipino police, quoting fishermen who escaped arrest.
West Philippine Sea (WPS) commander Air Force Lt. Gen. Roy Devaraturda assured China Thursday that its nationals would be treated well while awaiting its 11 nationals will be treated well while they await trial for poaching in Philippine waters. – With Francisco Tuyay and Florante S. Solmerin
In Tokyo, Japan said it was “deeply worried” by China’s behavior in a spat with Vietnam as tensions in the South China Sea escalated with Hanoi saying it was prepared to act on Beijing’s “provocation” of putting up an oil drilling rig in disputed maritime areas.
“We have strong concerns as there is information that many Vietnamese vessels were damaged and some people were injured,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters.
“We are deeply worried as regional tensions have risen with China unilaterally starting rigging activities in disputed waters” in the South China Sea, the top government spokesman said.
“We recognize this incident is part of China’s unilateral and provocative maritime activities,” he said.
Suga said China should explain to Vietnam and the international community the basis on which it was acting and added Japan strongly wants China to refrain from provocative moves and “act in a self-restrained manner”.
Beijing’s dispute with Japan is one of the more volatile flashpoints in regional relations, with both sides deploying paramilitary vessels -- backed at a distance by naval ships -- to the contested Senkaku islands, which China calls the Diaoyus.
The disputes have given common cause to Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam, with Manila particularly welcoming of Tokyo’s moves to toughen up its defense stance, which it sees as offering a counterbalance to growing Chinese power.
Hanoi said Wednesday that Chinese ships protecting a deep-water drilling rig in disputed waters had used water cannon to attack Vietnamese patrol vessels and had repeatedly rammed them, injuring six people.
Tensions between the communist neighbors have risen sharply since the China Maritime Safety Administration issued a navigational warning saying it would be drilling close to the Paracel Islands -- which are controlled by China but claimed by Vietnam.
The two countries, who fought a brief border war in 1979, have been locked in a longstanding territorial dispute over the waters, and frequently trade diplomatic barbs over oil exploration, fishing rights and the ownership of the Spratly and Paracel Islands.
Vietnam said on Thursday it is prepared to take measures over China’s placement of the exploration rig in disputed waters.
Vietnam can’t accept this month’s placement of the HD-981 rig and deployment of vessels in an area it considers part of the country’s exclusive economic zone and continental shelf, Deputy Prime Minister Pham Binh Minh told Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi, according to Vietnam’s foreign ministry.
Vietnam demanded that China withdraw the rig and vessels and hold talks to resolve the issue, Minh said.
“Vietnam will take all suitable and necessary measures to safeguard its legitimate rights and interests,” Minh said, according to the posting.
The rig’s location is near the Paracel Islands, which are now under Chinese control, said Li Mingjiang, an associate professor at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.
Vietnam also claims the Paracels, and both countries, as well as Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Taiwan, have claims to other territory in the South China Sea.
“The two countries are likely to engage in a war of words for some time,” Li said by e-mail.
“Vietnam will openly criticize China in the international arena and mobilize other Asean countries, especially those claimant countries, to put pressure on China,” he said, in a reference to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
State-owned Vietnam Oil & Gas Group, known as PetroVietnam, said in a statement on its website it sent a letter to China National Offshore Oil Corp. asking the company to stop activities and remove the rig.
Yang told Minh during their phone call that no country has the right to interfere with the operations of Chinese companies in the waters, according to a statement posted yesterday on the website of China’s Foreign Ministry.
“The Paracel Islands are China’s inherent territories” and therefore there is no dispute over them, Yang said, according to the statement. “China is strongly dissatisfied and firmly opposes Vietnam’s interference.”
“The risk of escalation is real, given the role of oil and proximity to both countries,” said Taylor Fravel, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who studies China’s ties with its neighbors.
China has doubled defense spending since 2006 with Xi seeking to build a “blue-water” navy capable of operating on the high seas and far from home ports. It has also escalated tensions in the East China Sea after establishing an air defense identification zone over islands disputed with Japan.
China has 80 vessels in the area, including seven military craft, some of which fired water at Vietnamese ships backed by low-flying Chinese aircraft, Ngo Ngoc Thu, Vice Commander of Vietnam’s Coast Guard said at a briefing.
“The situation is extremely tense,” Thu said. While Vietnam seeks to resolve the dispute through negotiations, “all endurance has limits.” “If China vessels continue to hit ours, we will have similar moves to respond in self-defense.”
The number of Chinese ships being reported in the area signals “a major show of resolve,” Ian Storey, a senior fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, said by e-mail. “Vietnam seems equally keen to demonstrate its determination to prevent the rig from carrying out its work.” AFP and Bloomberg
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