MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine government announced on Tuesday a fresh diplomatic protest against China over the South China Sea dispute, a long-standing thorny issue that has flared up again as the next Philippine president prepares to take office next month.
Relations between Beijing and Manila have improved in recent years, despite outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte’s six-year term ending on June 30. It sees hundreds of diplomatic protests to Beijing over what it sees as aggression in the disputed waters.
The territorial conflicts are among the key challenges President-elect Ferdinand Marcos Jr. will face when he takes office after his landslide electoral victory on May 9. He has said he will use diplomatic means with China over the issue, the same approach adopted by Duterte He has been criticized for not taking a more aggressive stance on Beijing’s increasingly assertive actions on resource-rich and busy shipping lanes.
The foreign ministry said on Tuesday it had lodged a diplomatic protest over China’s three-and-a-half-month annual fishing ban earlier this month covering disputed waters “over which the Philippines has sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction.”
It said the ban was not limited to Chinese fishing vessels and violated the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and a 2016 arbitral tribunal ruling that nullified Beijing’s huge historic claim on the strategic waterway and upheld it for a period of time the sovereign rights of the Philippines. The coastal waters are called its exclusive economic zone.
China did not recognize the arbitral award and continued to resist.
The Commerce Department said in a statement that China’s ban “has no legal basis and undermines the mutual trust, confidence and respect that should underpin the bilateral relationship.”
“The Philippines calls on China to abide by its obligations under international law” and “to cease and desist from engaging in illegal activities,” including its “annual practice of declaring fishing bans in areas far beyond China’s legitimate maritime rights,” it said.
Separately, a Philippine foreign ministry official said Monday night that the department summoned a Chinese diplomat in early April to protest the alleged harassment of a research vessel by the Chinese coast guard in the South China Sea.
They said they were reviewing other recent violations of Philippine rights at Second Thomas Shoal and Reed Bank, which are within Manila’s exclusive economic zone but also claimed by China, before taking further diplomatic action.
The department said it summoned a Chinese embassy official in Manila to protest “harassment” by the “Chinese Coast Guard” of the research vessel R/V Legend, which was conducting undersea fault line surveys along the Manila Trench west of the northern Philippines .
Philippine diplomats gave no other details, but people involved in the scientific study told The Associated Press last month that a Chinese coast guard ship had been tracking the R/V Legend since March 25, with five Filipino scientists on board and five Filipino scientists on board. An unknown number of Taiwanese counterparts to 30.
Carla Dimalanta of the US National Institute of Geological Sciences said the movement of a Chinese Coast Guard vessel about 2 to 3 nautical miles from the R/V Legend caught the attention of scientists as the research vessel dragged a long line in the sea survey cable. University of the Philippines.
The marine survey program, which ended on April 13, is a joint project of the Philippine Institute and National Central University in Taiwan to help map marine faults and other geological features that could trigger earthquakes, tsunamis and other disasters. Part of the funding for the research came from the Philippine Department of Science and Technology, she said.
The Philippine Coast Guard said last month that Philippine scientists reported the incident to the Philippine government, which deployed a Coast Guard patrol vessel, BRP Capones, to monitor the research vessel.
China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei have been in the midst of tense territorial standoffs in busy shipping lanes for decades.
For the past few years, the Philippines has protested the Chinese coast guard’s interception of a Philippine supply ship on its way to Second Thomas Shoal, where Philippine marines watch over a long-grounded naval vessel. Chinese ships also disrupted Philippine vessels exploring for oil and gas under the sea at Reed Beach, Philippine officials said.
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