China ship blasts Pinoy fishermen with water cannon
Alexis Romero (The Philippine Star) - February 25, 2014 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - A Chinese coast guard ship used a water cannon last month to drive Filipino fishermen out of Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal in the West Philippine Sea, showing aggressive enforcement of new Chinese fisheries rules, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said yesterday.

Since the start of the year, Beijing has required foreign fishing boats to get approval before entering waters that China claims as its own.

“The Chinese coast guard tried to drive away fishermen to the extent of using a water cannon,” Armed Forces chief Gen. Emmanuel Bautista told foreign correspondents, referring to a Jan. 27 incident near Panatag Shoal.

China claims about 90 percent of the South China Sea’s 3.5 million square kilometers. The sea provides 10 percent of the global fish catch, carries $5 trillion in ship-borne trade a year and is believed to be rich in energy resources.

Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam also claim parts of the sea.

Bautista declined to give more details about the confrontation in the area, about 124 nautical miles from Zambales, saying the military still had to talk to the fishermen.

He said the Philippine military would avoid confrontation with China but would react if the Chinese used violence against Philippine fishermen.

“It’s our policy to avoid confrontation. We do not want any confrontation with anybody,” he said. 

“We want to resolve the issue through peaceful (means) and that is through international arbitration,” he added.


Sign of weakness


Armed Forces public affairs chief Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala said China’s action against unarmed fishermen reflected its weakness.

“Where does weakness lie? Does it lie on our fishermen or the Chinese coast guard firing water cannons at us? It lies with the  Chinese coast guard,” Zagala said.

“They (fishermen) are just doing their livelihood. Why shoot them like that? Why do you we have to assert yourself that way?” he added.

Zagala said the incident was a clear threat to freedom of navigation in the region.

“There is already a threat of freedom of navigation when it comes to what’s going on in our territorial waters. It’s very important that freedom of navigation, freedom to do economic activities like fishing, is protected,” he said.

But he stressed China’s aggression should be dealt with through peaceful means.

“We will not answer the aggression of the Chinese coast guard with our own aggression,” he pointed out.

“There are more Filipino fishermen than the Chinese coast guard. We should just continue with our lives, our livelihood, and freedom to navigate especially in our own territorial waters,” he said.

When asked how would local fishermen respond to China’s intimidation, Zagala said: “I have no answer on that. I still have to get advice from higher officials.”


‘Normal patrols’


Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said she was not aware of details of the situation, and repeated that China had sovereignty over the South China Sea and its islands.

“The relevant Chinese maritime forces carry out normal official patrols in that area,” she told a daily news briefing.

A senior Philippine navy official said it was the first time China used water cannon in the area.

“Our fishermen are used to playing a dangerous cat-and-mouse game but China has become very aggressive,” said the navy official who declined to be identified because he is not authorized to speak to the media.

The Philippines has taken its dispute with China to arbitration under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea but China is refusing to participate in the case.

President Aquino earlier likened China’s aggressive acts to Nazi Germany’s annexation of Sudetenland before World War II. For his statement, Chinese media called him an “amateurish and “ignorant” politician.

China has rejected challenges to its sovereignty claims and accused the Philippines of illegally occupying Chinese islands in the seas and of provoking tension.

This month, the commander of the US Navy said the United States would come to the aid of the Philippines in the event of conflict with China over disputed waters.

US Ambassador Philip Goldberg, who was attending the same forum as Bautista, urged the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China to accelerate negotiations on a code of conduct for the sea to avoid accidents and miscalculations.

“We believe that the agreement on the code of conduct is long overdue,” Goldberg said, adding that the US supported Philippine efforts to bring the dispute to international arbitration.

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