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South China Sea: Philippines Removes Chinese Barrier in Contested Area

The Philippines says it has removed a floating barrier installed by China to block Philippine fishing boats entering a contested area in the South China Sea.

The Philippines coast guard said it had been instructed to do so by President Ferdinand Marcos Junior.

Manila says China violated its fishing rights with the 300m (1,000ft) barrier in the Scarborough Shoal.

China claims more than 90% of the South China Sea and seized the shoal in 2012.

Beijing defended the actions of its coastguard, stating they were “necessary measures”.

“The barrier posed a hazard to navigation, a clear violation of international law. It also hinders the conduct of fishing and livelihood activities of Filipino fisherfolk,” the Philippines coast guard said in a statement.

It described the shoal as “an integral part of the Philippine national territory”.

Commodore Jay Tarriela of the coast guard said the barrier was discovered by a patrol on Friday.

Three Chinese coast guard boats and a Chinese maritime militia service boat installed the barrier when the Philippine vessel arrived, he said.

The Chinese boats issued 15 radio challenges and accused the Philippine ship and fishermen of violating international and Chinese laws, before moving away “upon realising the presence of media personnel on board the [Philippine] vessel”, he said.

Japan has urged calm and said the South China Sea was central to regional stability.

“Our country strongly opposes any conduct that heightens tension in the South China Sea,” Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said at a regular press conference.

The South China Sea is a rich fishing ground that is believed to hold vast oil and gas reserves. More than half of the world’s fishing vessels operate in this area.

China’s claims – which include sovereignty over plots of land and their adjacent waters – have angered not just the Philippines but also Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei.

China has backed its expansive claims with island-building and naval patrols.

The US says it does not take sides in territorial disputes, but has sent military ships and planes near disputed islands in what it calls “freedom of navigation” operations.

Beijing seized the Scarborough Shoal in 2012 and forced fishermen from the Philippines to travel further for smaller catches.

It later allowed the Philippines to fish nearby when relations improved under former President Rodrigo Duterte.

However, tensions have heightened since Ferdinand Marcos Jr became president last year.

President Marcos Jr restored security ties with the US and in early 2023 granted American troops wider access to Philippine military bases.

This angered China as a larger US presence in the Philippines provides Washington with an arc of alliances stretching from South Korea and Japan in the north to Australia in the south.

Source : BBC