‘Stop wanton hype-up:’ China says ‘no plan’ to keep ‘permanent presence’ in WPS reef
MANILA, Philippines — China has “no plan” of establishing a “permanent presence” at the Julian Felipe (Whitsun) Reef, its foreign ministry spokesperson said, adding that the Philippines should immediately stop its “wanton hype-up” of the issue.
On Wednesday, the Philippines began filing a daily diplomatic protest against Chinese vessels’ continued presence at the West Philippine Sea reef.
Asserting that the reef is within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ), Manila earlier demanded that Beijing pull out its fishing vessels and maritime assets in the area or face a diplomatic protest “every day of delay” in the removal of the ships.
“I’ve just made it very clear. China has no such plan,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said in his regular press briefing on Tuesday, April 6, when asked if China plans to keep a “permanent presence” at the reef.
Zhao, however, maintained that the reef is part of Nansha Qundao, one of two political districts in the South China Sea established by the Chinese government in 2020.
“The reef and the waters around it have always been an important fishing ground and shelter for Chinese fishermen. It is completely normal for Chinese fishing vessels to fish in the waters and take shelter during rough sea conditions,” he said.
“It is a customary practice running over a thousand years for Chinese fishing boats to work and shelter in relevant waters. I don’t know why relevant sides refer to the Chinese fishermen as ‘maritime militia.’ It shows malicious intent driven by ulterior motives,” he added.
‘Stop wanton hype-up’
Further, he accused the Philippines of attempting to use what he said was “an illegal, null and void award to negate China’s sovereignty, rights and interests.”
He was referring to the July 2016 decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration, which ruled in favor of the Philippines and invalidated China’s expansive nine-dash line claim over the South China Sea, which includes the West Philippine Sea.
Zhao said the Philippines is using the ruling to also “negate Chinese fishermen’s fishing history and rights in their traditional fishing grounds in the Nansha Islands which have been continued for as long as a thousand of years.”
“This is a violation of international law including the [United Nations] Charter and UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea). It is utterly unacceptable,” he claimed.
“We hope the Philippines will look at this objectively and correctly, immediately stop wanton hype-up, and avoid casting negative influence on bilateral relations and the overall peace and stability in the South China Sea,” he added.
The Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has already earlier rejected China’s assertion that the reef is part of its “traditional fishing grounds.”
“Tradition yields to the law whether or not it is regarded as traditional fishing,” the DFA said in a statement on April 5 as it cited the 2016 arbitral award.
“The [UNCLOS]—to which both the Republic of the Philippines and China are parties—and the final and binding 12 July 2016 Award in the South China Sea Arbitration are clearly the only norms applicable to this situation,” the department pointed out.
It said the ruling “conclusively settled the issue of historic[al] rights and maritime entitlements in the South China Sea.”
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