Philippines removes contested Chinese barrier in South China Sea

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The Philippines announced the removal of a floating barrier placed by China to obstruct the entry of Philippine fishing boats into a disputed area in the South China Sea. The Philippines’ coast guard stated that it carried out this action on the orders of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

Manila alleges that China violated its fishing rights with the 300-metre (1,000-foot) barrier in the Scarborough Shoal. China asserts ownership of more than 90% of the South China Sea and took control of the shoal in 2012. Beijing defended the actions of its coast guard, deeming them necessary.

The Philippines’ coast guard declared that the barrier posed a navigation hazard and a clear violation of international law, impeding the fishing and livelihood activities of Filipino fishermen. It also emphasized that the shoal is an integral part of the Philippine national territory. The barrier was discovered during a patrol on last week, with three Chinese coast guard boats and a Chinese maritime militia service boat installing it in the presence of the Philippine vessel. The Chinese vessels issued 15 radio challenges and accused the Philippine ship and fishermen of violating international and Chinese laws before leaving when they realized there were media personnel on board the Philippine vessel.

The South China Sea dispute revolves around a region known for its abundant fishing resources and significant oil and gas reserves. More than half of the world’s fishing vessels operate in this area. China’s expansive territorial claims, which encompass land and adjacent waters, have raised concerns not only for the Philippines but also for Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Brunei. China has supported these claims through island construction and naval patrols. While the United States maintains a stance of not taking sides in territorial disputes, it has conducted “freedom of navigation” operations by sending military ships and aircraft near disputed islands.

China seized the Scarborough Shoal in 2012, leading Filipino fishermen to venture farther for reduced catches. Subsequently, when relations improved under former President Rodrigo Duterte, China allowed the Philippines to resume fishing in the vicinity.

However, tensions have escalated since the presidency of Ferdinand Marcos Jr, who restored security ties with the United States and, in early 2023, granted American troops broader access to Philippine military bases. This development has displeased China, as it perceives an expanded U.S. presence in the Philippines as extending Washington’s network of alliances from South Korea and Japan in the north to Australia in the south.

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