BEIJING—China has said it will look into reports that Filipino fishermen have been driven away allegedly by the Chinese Coast Guard from Union Bank in the South China Sea, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said Friday.
”I honestly do not know anything about what you said. You yourself mentioned that the vessels are unidentified, and all sides are in the process of verifying the situation. China also needs to check on that,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang told a news conference.
The Philippines’ foreign affairs and national defense departments are still confirming media reports on the harassment of the Filipino fishermen.
Lu said China would continue to work with the Philippine side to “properly” resolve the South China Sea or West Philippine Sea maritime and territorial dispute under the leadership of President Rodrigo Duterte.
”Our position on the South China Sea issue is consistent and clear. We would go on working with the Philippine side to properly deal with relevant maritime issues and create favorable conditions for the sound and steady development of bilateral relations,” he said.
He reiterated the bilateral relations between the Philippines and China have turned around and started to improve quickly “with all-around cooperation moving forward steadily.”
Five months after his election, President Duterte visited China in October last year at the invitation of Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Duterte is scheduled to return to Beijing next month to participate in the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation.
”Overall, both sides are able to build upon the consensus of the two leaders and manage maritime issues through negotiations and coordination,” Lu said.
In Manila, a party-list lawmaker on Saturday said the Philippine government has a “sovereign duty” to assist Filipino fishermen allegedly attack by Chinese coastguard elements on the Princess Johann boat was reportedly occurred near a Chinese-occupied section of the Spratly archipelago on March 27.
Kabayan party -0ist Rep. Harry Roque, a House deputy minority leader, said the Philippines had an obligation under international law to exert all efforts to settle territorial disputes peacefully.
“But the Philippine government also has an international legal obligation as a sovereign nation to protect the interests of its nationals,” Roque, an international law expert, said.
Roque stressed that a long-term solution to the issue was for the Philippines to establish a development authority over the territories in the Spratly islands claimed by the Philippines.
The Philippine Coast Guard said the Filipino-owned vessel was fishing in waters belonging to the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone when the attack happened.
No one was reported injured in the incident.
Roque said that international law had always recognized that States, in the recognition by the international legal system of sovereign and territorial rights of states, have concomitant obligations to the protection of the rights of people subject to its jurisdiction.
“[Princess Johann] was reportedly fired upon seven times by a Chinese speedboat with seven Chinese coast guards on board,” the Philippine Coast Guard statement said.
Quoting Max Huber, the Dutch arbitrator in the landmark 1928 Las Palmas arbitration, Roque said: “Territorial sovereignty, as has already been said, involves the exclusive right to display the activities of a State. This right has a corollary, a duty: the obligation to protect within the territory the rights of other States, in particular their right to integrity and inviolability in peace and in war, together with the rights which each State may claim for its nationals in foreign territory.”
“Ironically, this was the case where the Philippines lost to Indonesia the island of Las Palmas. In recent years, Indonesia has used the island to plot the reaches of its own EEZ, eating up large swathes of fishing grounds for Philippine fishing vessels,” Roque added.
Roque said the Philippines has the exclusive right to the use of marine resources found in its EEZ, to the exclusion of other states.
“At the very least, the Philippines should file a diplomatic protest with the Chinese Embassy in Manila for the attack,” he said.
“We have a constitutional duty to protect these resources for the future generation of Filipinos.”
Roque also said international precedents had ruled that the use of force by one state against an unarmed civilian vessel was a violation of international law, citing another landmark case, decided by the International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea in 1999, the M/V “Saiga” case.
In this case, Guinea arrested and detained the oil tanker “Saiga”, which was at the time flying the flag of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines but manned by a Ukrainian crew.
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