PCG spox, Chinese expert clash: Who’s ‘barbaric’ at sea?
In another Philippines-China face-off—this time in a sea of academics, policymakers and government officials from around the world—a retired senior Chinese air force colonel accused Filipinos of barbarity, citing two separate incidents in which a fisherman from China and another from Taiwan were killed.
Reacting to a virtual presentation by Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) Commodore Jay Tarriela during a conference on the South China Sea in Vietnam, Zhou Bo, a senior fellow of the Center for International Security and Strategy of Tsinghua University, said the PCG officer was portraying China as the “devil in the region” while the Philippines “almost looks like an angel.”
Zhou then cited the 2000 killing of a Chinese fisherman by the PCG and the other “from an island from Taiwan” in 2013.
“Why were you so barbaric to kill Chinese fishermen?” he asked Tarriela on Thursday, the second day of the 15th South China Sea International Conference in Ho Chi Minh City, organized by the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam.
“And why a country that is never stronger … than China would behave so barbaric against the innocent Chinese fishermen?” he added.
‘I’ll be very frank’
Speaking from Manila, Tarriela clapped back. “I’ll be very frank in responding to your question. Thank you for using the word ‘barbaric,’” the PCG spokesperson on the West Philippine Sea said before some 400 people who attended the conference.
“You keep on mentioning the word ‘barbarism.’ But as I said, we abide by international rules-based order,” Tarriela said.
“With the images and videos that we have already presented to the international community—in which I know that the People’s Republic of China is not really pleased—we have portrayed what the word that you’re saying [is]. But I’m not going to use that against you,” he said.
Tarriela said Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines, which have conflicting claims over parts of the South China Sea with China “will always abide by the international rules-based order.”
“I just don’t know whether the People’s Republic of China is also willing to do the same,” he said.
The four countries are partners in the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
China says it has sovereign rights over nearly the entire South China Sea, but an international arbitral tribunal in 2016 invalidated its historical claims under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos).
The exchange between Tarriela and Zhou came nearly a week after China Coast Guard (CCG) and Chinese maritime militia (CMM) vessels again tried to block Filipino boats on a resupply mission to the Philippine outpost at Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal.
For the first time, a CCG ship collided with one of two small boats carrying fresh provisions for troops on the derelict BRP Sierra Madre which was purposely grounded on the shoal to serve as an outpost 24 years ago.
A CMM boat also collided with a PCG ship. Both Philippine vessels suffered minor damage and no one on board was injured.
In a post on Friday on X (formerly Twitter), Tarriela followed through with the theme opened up by Zhou.
“I believe the modern-day barbarians are those who hold the belief that the domination of the world is determined solely by brute force and power, particularly when dealing with smaller and weaker nations,” he said.
“These barbarians choose to disregard the established rules-based order and instead aim to reshape the current system through intimidation and aggression,” Tarriela said.
Commenting on the exchange between Tarriela and Zhou, Jay Batongbacal, director of the University of the Philippines Institute of Maritime Affairs and the Law of the Sea, said that the retired Chinese officer still had a timeworn outlook.
“Interesting how CN Sr. Col. Zhou Bo totally embodies the ancient Middle Kingdom mentality, which regarded all non-Chinese peoples to be ‘barbarians,’” he posted on X on Thursday.
In his statement at the conference, Tarriela said the death of the Taiwanese fisherman had been settled diplomatically.
The fatal shooting of 65-year old Hong Shi Cheng occurred in the Balintang Channel between Taiwan and the Philippines on May 9, 2013, as a PCG patrol chased the fishing boat Guang Da Xing No. 28 that allegedly entered the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines, parts of which overlaps with Taiwan’s.
The fisherman’s death strained ties between Manila and Taipei. Taiwan demanded prosecution of the Filipino coast guardsmen and Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou ordered a hiring freeze on Filipino workers.
President Benigno Aquino III sent a personal representative to apologize to the victim’s family.
The National Bureau of Investigation recommended filing homicide charges. On Sept. 18, 2019, the Regional Trial Court of Manila found eight coast guard officers guilty of homicide and sentenced them to 14 years in prison and made to pay P100,000 in civil indemnity and moral damages to the fisherman’s family.
The Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s decision in October 2022.
In the earlier incident, the skipper of Chinese fishing boat Liang-Liang Hai was killed on May 27, 2000, while seven of his crew were arrested following a clash with PCG personnel off the coast of Barangay Ibaan in Rizal, Palawan province.
This was the first reported incident where a firefight erupted between the PCG and Chinese poachers. Dried turtle meat and six live turtles were seized from the Chinese.
The Philippine government refused to compensate the family of the slain skipper Fu Kung Wu but agreed to release the other fishermen who were charged with illegal entry into Philippine waters, poaching and catching endangered species.
In another fatal shooting in Philippine waters, two Vietnamese fishermen were killed when a Philippine Navy ship fired warning shots on their boat, hitting the bow of the vessel.
The Navy arrested the other Vietnamese fishermen who were allegedly poaching in waters off Bolinao, Pangasinan, on Sept. 23, 2017.
The Vietnamese government said it would not press charges against two Navy officers and eight sailors who were found responsible for the deaths. The Philippine government, in turn, released the five other crewmen of the fishing boat on humanitarian grounds.