The South China Sea has been a major flashpoint in the Asia-Pacific for at least the past decade, as China became more assertive and its growing economic power strengthened its global influence. Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have competing claims on parts of the waterway, a crucial trade route.
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The Philippines on Sunday accused the Chinese coast guard of installing a “floating barrier” in a disputed area of the South China Sea, saying it prevented Filipinos from entering the area and fishing.
The Manila Coast Guard and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources “strongly condemn” China’s installation of the barrier in part of the Scarborough Shoal, Commodore Jay Tarriela, a Coast Guard spokesman, said on social media platform X, formerly Twitter .
The barrier blocking fishermen from the shoal deprived them of their fishing and livelihood activities,” he said.
“The Philippine Coast Guard will continue to work closely with all relevant government agencies to address these challenges, uphold our maritime rights and protect our maritime domains,” Tarriela said.
The Chinese embassy in Manila did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
China claims 90% of the South China Sea, overlapping with the exclusive economic zones of Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia and the Philippines.
Beijing captured the Scarborough Shoal in 2012, forcing fishermen from the Philippines to travel further for smaller catches.
Beijing allowed Filipino fishermen to return to the uninhabited shoal as bilateral ties improved significantly under then-President Rodrigo Duterte. But since his successor, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., came to power last year, tensions have increased again.
Philippine Coast Guard and Fisheries Bureau personnel discovered the floating barrier, estimated to be 1,000 feet (300 meters) long, during a routine patrol on Friday near the shoal, locally known as Bajo de Masinloc, Tarriela said.
Three Chinese Coast Guard rigid-hulled inflatable boats and a Chinese Maritime Militia service boat installed the barrier when the Philippine ship arrived, he said.
Filipino fishermen say China usually installs such barriers when they monitor a large number of fishermen in the area, Tarriela said.
The Chinese boats issued 15 radio challenges accusing the Philippine ship and fishermen of violating international and Chinese laws before leaving “after realizing that there were media personnel on board the (Philippine) ship,” he said .