MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines has formally protested the “provocative and illegal” presence of Chinese government ships around a shoal within the Philippine continental shelf in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), asserting exclusive rights to use resources within its exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said on Tuesday that the Philippines has filed a diplomatic protest to complain China’s encroachment into the Philippines’ established maritime borders, with the entry of at least three government ships around the Ayungin Shoal.
“We have already sent communications on this. We have already told them about our position regarding these vessels, which have intruded in our EEZ,” DFA spokesperson Assistant Secretary Raul Hernandez in a press briefing on Tuesday.
Asked what such “communications” were, Hernandez said: “When we send communications on things like this, when there are intrusions, we file protests.”
The DFA filed the protest with the Chinese Embassy in Manila on May 10 following confirmation that at least three Chinese government ships were seen near Ayungin shoal, an “integral part of our national territory.”
Hernandez said the shoal, located some 105.77 nautical miles from Palawan, “constitutes part of our 200-nm continental shelf as provided under the Unclos (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea).”
“The Philippines calls on China to respect the sovereign rights and jurisdiction of the Philippines over its continental shelf including waters around the shoal. China’s interference with the sovereign rights and jurisdiction over the West Philippine Sea is a violation of international law,” said Hernandez.
The official said a fleet of 30 fishing vessels were also spotted around the Mischief Reef and the Kalayaan Island Group, also a Philippine-occupied territory in the West Philippine Sea.
“The fishing vessels are still there and they go around the place and that’s why what we have been asking the Chinese authorities is to respect our sovereign rights over our EEZ, because the resources in our EEZ are meant for the Filipino people,” Hernandez said.
The development came amid heightened tension over the West Philippine Sea following the death of a fisherman from Taiwan, whose vessel ventured into Philippine territorial waters on May 9 and allegedly tried to ram a Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) patrol boat.
The PCG admitted to the shooting but said it was in self-defense. An angered Taiwan has imposed sanctions on the Philippines over the issue, including a freeze on the hiring of Filipino workers and trip cancellations among Taiwanese tourists.
Earlier this month, the Philippines warned China against encroaching into its maritime borders after Chinese state media announced the dispatch of some 30 fishing vessels off Hainan province in Southern China for a 40-day fishing fleet.
The Philippines viewed this move as a “projection of their nine-dash line claim, which we believe is excessive in violation of international law,” Hernandez said.
He said the protest has been in line with the Philippines pending bid for arbitration against China before the United Nations arbitral tribunal, legal action that aimed to halt Chinese incursions into established Philippine maritime borders in the West Philippine Sea.
The move also aims to nullify China’s nine-dash line, a delineation which places almost all of the territories in the West Philippine Sea within Chinese borders.