Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Friday vowed to defend the country's waters against Chinese aggression, days after a 300 m-long floating barrier installed by China was removed at his command near the Bajo de Masinloc (BDM) shoal, also called the Scarborough Shoal.
The Philippines Coast Guard (PCG) had raised a strong protest on Sunday and proceeded to remove it the next day while accusing China of violating international law and the sovereignty of the country.
In his first public remarks against China since the installation of the barrier, Marcos said, "We're not looking for trouble but what we'll do is to continue defending the maritime territory of the Philippines and the rights of our fishermen, who have been fishing in those areas for hundreds of years."
He informed that after the removal of the barrier, Filipino fishing boats entered the lagoon and caught around 164 tonnes of fish in a single day. "That's what our fishermen lose, so there should not be a barrier there and it's clear the area is within the Philippines," he asserted.
The Philippines' repeated confrontations with Beijing over the disputed South China Sea has also been compounded with Marcos' decision to allow the expansion of US military presence under a defence pact in 2014, infuriating Chinese authorities.
Despite the Philippine President's efforts to mend relations with China, he has vowed to not yield "an inch" of territory in the waterway in the face of China's territorial claims here, which have been contested by other Asian countries including Brunei and Taiwan. Marcos' approach towards China is in contrast with that of his predecessor Rodrigo Duterte.
China's response to the Philippines
Meanwhile, Chinese Foreign Ministry Wang Wenbin said on Wednesday that the Scarborough Shoal is China's "inherent territory".
"What the Philippines (has) done is nothing but a farce that entertains itself. China will continue to safeguard the territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests of Huangyan Island,” Wang said.
He also accused a Philippine vessel of "trespassing into the waters" without China's permission and attempting to "intrude" into the lagoon. "China's coast guard took the necessary measures to stop and warn off the ship in accordance with the law, which was professional and with restraint," Wang claimed.
Confrontations between China and the Philippines
This is the latest confrontation in the South China Sea, one of the most hotly contested water bodies in the world. The Philippines said on Sunday that the CCG vessels usually install floating barriers whenever they monitor a large number of Filipino fishermen in the area.
Last week, a Philippine BFAR ship and at least 54 Filipino fishing boats were ordered by four Chinese ships by radio to leave the territory, alleging that they were breaching Chinese and international law. The Philippines said that it was a routine patrol.
Philippines' claim over the 200-mile Scarborough Shoal lies was upheld by an arbitration decision in 2016 under the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. However, China refused to recognise the 2016 arbitration ruling amid tense standoffs in the region.
Chinese coast guard ships have also blocked Filipino government vessels delivering supplies and personnel to the Philippine-occupied Second Thomas Shoal, resulting in near-collisions that the Philippine government has condemned and protested.
Last month, the Chinese Coast Guard allegedly used a water cannon to block a Filipino supply boat from delivering a new batch of troops, food, water and fuel to the Second Thomas Shoal in the disputed waters.
The PCG also recently shared pictures of destroyed coral reefs in the South China Sea, accusing China of massive destruction in the area. "The continued swarming for the indiscriminate illegal and destructive fishing activities of the Chinese maritime militia in Rozul Reef and Escoda Shoal may have directly caused the degradation and destruction of the marine environment in the [West Philippine Sea] features," it said.
China claims ownership over virtually the entire strategic waterway despite international rulings that invalidated Beijing's vast territorial claims, such as that in 2016 by the Permanent Court of Arbitration, an international body based in The Hague. China rejected that ruling.
China's unsubstantiated claims have put it at odds with the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan and the situation has been regarded as an Asian flashpoint.
(with AP inputs)