Manila, Aug 21 (efe-epa).- The Philippines has lodged a fresh diplomatic protest with China over an incident that occurred in May, in which it accuses the Chinese coast guard of harassing Filipino fishermen and illegally confiscating their equipment in the disputed waters of the South China Sea.
“The Department lodged today a diplomatic protest to China over the illegal confiscation by the Chinese Coast Guard of fish aggregating devices (payaos) of Filipino fishermen in Bajo de Masinloc (Scarborough Shoal) in May,” the Philippine department of foreign affairs said in a statement late Thursday.
The incident occurred near the Scarborough Shoal, which belongs to the Philippines, according to a 2016 ruling by an international tribunal in The Hague, although Beijing does not recognize the ruling and has not ceased fishing and military activity in these waters.
Scarborough Shoal is a traditional fishing ground for the Philippines and other neighboring countries, but China claims exclusive rights over it.
“The Philippines also resolutely objected to China’s continuing illicit issuances of radio challenges to Philippine aircraft conducting legitimate regular maritime patrols in the West Philippine Sea,” the Philippine ministry added.
Over the past year the Philippines has filed nearly a dozen diplomatic protests with the Chinese embassy in Manila – the last two complaints were in April – over several incidents involving China’s maritime patrols, whose presence in the disputed South China Sea has been on the rise.
In April, the Philippine government protested that a Chinese warship had aimed its weapons control radar at a Philippine navy ship, and against China’s establishment of two new districts under Hainan province that include territories of the Spratly Islands, Scarborough Shoal and Paracel archipelago, whose sovereignty China mainly disputes with the Philippines and Vietnam.
In June, a Chinese cargo ship collided with a Filipino fishing vessel off the coast of the Philippine island of Mindoro and the 14 Filipino fishermen on board disappeared into the sea, amid accusations that the high command of the Chinese vessel did not provide assistance nor alert coast guards in time.
The Philippine authorities filed criminal charges for reckless homicide, multiple homicide, and property damage against the captain and three officers of the Chinese ship after nine days of unsuccessful search and rescue efforts. The case is pending in court.
The Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan and Brunei claim parts of the strategically important waters, which serve as a passage to 30 percent of global trade and house 12 percent of global fish reserves, as well as oil and gas deposits, although China claims sovereignty over the entire region.
The maritime conflict with China is a very sensitive issue in the Philippines, where 93 percent of the population does not view positively the passive stance adopted in the dispute by President Rodrigo Duterte, who has reoriented his foreign policy towards China and Russia and strengthened ties with Chinese President Xi Jinping in exchange for investment and soft loans. EFE-EPA