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Philippines, China to discuss fishing rights in South China Sea – Marcos

Alexis Romero - The Philippine Star
Philippines, China to discuss fishing rights in South China Sea � Marcos
This photo taken on April 22, 2023 shows Philippine coast guard vessel BRP Malapascua patrolling near Chinese vessels moored at Whitsun Reef in the Spratly Islands in the disputed South China Sea.
AFP / Ted Aljibe

MANILA, Philippines — President Marcos said China has agreed to discuss fishing rights in the South China Sea, as he pushed for a “direct communication line” with Beijing on maritime differences.

China has agreed to “sit down” and talk about Filipinos’ fishing rights in the South China Sea, Marcos said, adding he has told the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) “to put together... a map of these fishing grounds” that will be presented to Beijing.

In remarks made to reporters Sunday while enroute to Washington, Marcos also said a Philippines-China “direct communication line” must be finally adopted.

“The overall priority is to safeguard our maritime territory,” he said in remarks issued by his office.

The Chinese embassy in Manila did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Philippines accused China’s coast guard on Friday of “aggressive tactics” following a recent incident during a Philippine coast guard patrol close to the Philippines-held Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal, a flashpoint for previous altercations located 105 nautical miles (195 km) off Palawan.

The United States has urged China to stop harassing Philippine vessels in the South China Sea, while Beijing said it was willing to handle maritime differences with countries of concern through friendly consultations, while warning Washington against interference.

“This is the kind of thing that… we’re hoping to avoid, that this time it was a little more dangerous because they were close,” Marcos said. “That can cause casualties on both sides.”

China claims sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea, with a “nine-dash line” on maps that stretches more than 1,500 km (930 miles) off its mainland and cuts into the exclusive economic zones of Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia. An international arbitral ruling in 2016 dismissed that line as having no legal basis.

Speaking to reporters on board PR 001, Marcos said the recent incident in the vicinity of the Ayungin Shoal highlighted the urgency of the situation.

“That is why I insisted on completing the high level communication, we have to finish it,” the President said.

“We have not yet completed it. We’re waiting for China to give us the details on who will be the team at their end. The Philippine side is now complete… so we are just waiting for the counterpart of our team from China.”

The communication mechanism, one of the agreements signed during Marcos’ state visit to China last January, does not preclude the Philippines from filing diplomatic protests or sending notes verbale on Beijing’s actions.

“Well, they (China) agree... They’re working on it... but you know, I said until we have that, we will continue to be doing this,” the Chief Executive said.

The Asian superpower has refused to recognize The Hague court ruling, describing it as “illegal” and “a mere piece of paper.”

Last week, the PCG reported that two Chinese ships had resorted to “aggressive tactics” in the vicinity of the Ayungin Shoal, which China calls Ren’ai Jiao.

According to the PCG, a Chinese coast guard ship maintained a “perilous distance” of only 50 yards from Philippine vessel BRP Malapascua, resulting in a near collision. The DFA has urged China to respect the Philippines’ rights over the West Philippine Sea, saying Manila has the legal right to carry out routine maritime patrols in its territorial waters and exclusive economic zone.

China has maintained that its coast guard had protected its territorial integrity and maritime order, describing the incident as a “premeditated and provocative action for the Philippine vessel to barge into the waters of Ren’ai Jiao with journalists on board.”

Last February, the PCG accused its Chinese counterpart of directing a military-grade laser light at the BRP Malapascua, which was supporting a rotation and resupply mission of the Philippine Navy in Ayungin Shoal. A Chinese coast guard ship, the PCG said, had twice illuminated a green laser light toward the BRP Malapascua, causing temporary blindness to its crew.

Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian has claimed that the Chinese coast guard only used an ordinary laser pointer and did not intend to harm anyone.

Coast guard team

There have been numerous reports about Chinese ships preventing Filipino fishermen from fishing in the West Philippine Sea.

Last February, Marcos summoned the Chinese envoy to express his “serious concern” over the increasing frequency and intensity of actions by China against the PCG and Filipino fishermen in their bancas.

The PCG yesterday said they are organizing a team to assist in the crafting of a regional fishing agreement between the Philippines and China.

PCG spokesman Rear Admiral Armand Balilo said, “I know that a team from the Philippine Coast Guard is being organized and we are very much willing to cooperate in the regional fishing agreement” and that they have received “guidance” from Marcos.

Balilo also believed that under the planned regional fishing agreement, Filipinos would be free to engage in fishing activities in the West Philippine Sea, but admitted that there are sometimes reports reaching their office about alleged attempts to stop Filipino fishermen from fishing.

“And that is why our presence is there to protect our fishermen and show our presence to them (China) and also to our country,” he added.

Mockery

Meanwhile, the head of the National Unity Party in the House of Representatives has observed that China has been making a mockery of its diplomatic ties with the Philippines by its non-stop encroachments on the West Philippine Sea.

“China has repeatedly made a mockery of its diplomatic talks and avowed commitments with the Philippines on pursuing a peaceful settlement of the conflict,” Camarines Sur Rep. LRay Villafuerte said.

According to the Marcos ally, “formal engagements” between Beijing and Manila this year “have only become a prelude to more, instead of less, Chinese intrusions into our territorial waters and EEZ (200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone).”

“The asymmetry between Beijing’s rhetoric and action on this thorny territorial issue is as clear as day,” he said, pointing out that the trio of Manila-Beijing diplomatic engagements had been followed by “even more intense bullying tactics by China” in the West Philippine Sea.

Manila has so far lodged more than 200 diplomatic protests against Beijing in recent years. –Evelyn Macairan, Delon Porcalla

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