Kalayaan mayor urges PH fishers to defy China
The mayor of Kalayaan town, in the Spratlys, on Friday said he would encourage Filipino fishermen to ignore China’s new rules that require foreign fishermen to seek permission from Chinese regional authorities before venturing out into the disputed West Philippine Sea.
“It’s an absurd policy. We are not following it, and neither are we discouraging Filipino fishermen from going there,” Kalayaan Mayor Eugenio Bito-onon said as the Philippine government denounced the new Chinese fishing policy, calling it a “violation of international law.”
Congress may respond to the fresh Chinese move to tighten its grip on the West Philippine Sea, with Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez saying on Friday that he would file a resolution next Monday to oppose the new Chinese policy.
Rodriguez said his decision to ask Congress to dispute the new Chinese policy had the backing of President Aquino.
Bito-onon warned China that arresting foreign fishermen in the West Philippine Sea would only attract international pressure on itself.
Already, the United States has called China’s new fishing rules, which come as tensions have escalated over overlapping claims with the Philippines, Vietnam and other Southeast Asian nations and Japan, “provocative and dangerous.”
The new rules took effect on Jan. 1 after being passed in November by China’s southern island province of Hainan, from where China administers its extensive claims in the South China Sea, including disputed areas like the West Philippine Sea and East Sea in Vietnamese territory.
The fishing rules do not outline penalties, but the requirements are similar to a 2004 national law that says boats entering Chinese territory without permission can have their catch and fishing equipment seized and face fines of up to $82,000.
Bito-onon said in a telephone interview that the new Chinese rules had “no effect” on economic activities on Kalayaan island, including the municipal personnel’s travel by boat.
“It’s more of propaganda because they feel they have established a presence in the Spratlys. How could they enforce their self-proclaimed policy in populated islands in the Spratlys occupied by six claimants?” Bito-onon said.
Besides the Philippines and China, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan also claim territories in the Spratly archipelago in the middle of the South China Sea.
The Philippines occupies the Kalayaan islands, the largest of which is Bito-onon’s municipality, administered from Palawan province.
Bito-onon said he believed China was just flexing its muscles “in Hainan, Paracels and Macclesfield, which are within their EEZ (exclusive economic zone).”
“If they go out of their EEZ to enforce that, it would be a clear violation of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos),” Bito-onon said.
He said there had been no sighting of increased Chinese activity in areas of the Spratlys near the Philippine island of Pag-asa.
“There is no movement there. If China wants to secure that area, they will need to contain first the Vietnamese in Pugad Island where there is a sheltered port 720 kilometers away from Hainan,” he said.
Bito-onon said he was not aware of discouraging effects of the new Chinese rules on Filipino fishermen operating in the area.
Threat to peace
The Department of Foreign Affairs warned on Friday that the new Chinese policy posed a threat to peace and stability in the South China Sea, calling it a violation of international laws and a breach of international rights to navigation and fishing in the high seas.
“We have requested China to immediately clarify the new fisheries law issued by the Hainan Provincial People’s Congress,” DFA spokesperson Raul Hernandez said.
“We are gravely concerned by this new regulation that would require foreign fishing vessels to obtain approval from Chinese regional authorities before fishing or surveying in a large portion of the South China Sea,” Hernandez said.
Violation of int’l law
The DFA issued a statement saying the new Chinese policy was a “gross violation” of the Unclos, the international law that the Philippines invoked in taking its dispute with China over Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal) to the United Nations for arbitration in January last year.
China’s new fishing rules are “contrary to the spirit” of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC), the DFA said.
Signed between China and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) in 2002, the DOC contains guidelines that countries involved in territorial disputes in the South China Sea should observe to prevent the rivalry from erupting into conflict.
“This development escalates tensions, unnecessarily complicates the situation in the South China Sea, and threatens the peace and stability of the region,” the DFA said.
The new Chinese regulations are “tantamount to declaring sovereignty over the high seas, where international navigation and fishing rights are supposed to be respected,” the department said.
“The Philippines is not the only country adversely affected by these regulations. These regulations seriously violate the freedom of navigation and the right to fish of all states in the high seas,” the DFA said.
“Under customary international law, no state can subject the high seas to its sovereignty,” it said.
Vietnam has also condemned the new Chinese fishing rules, with foreign ministry spokesperson Luong Thanh Nghi saying on Thursday that Hanoi had “undisputable” sovereignty over the Spratly and Paracel islands, and that “all foreign activities in these areas without Vietnamese acceptance are illegal and invalid.”
Support from gov’t
In Manila, Rodriguez said he spoke with President Benigno Aquino III about his resolution at a traditional New Year reception for diplomats in Malacañang on Friday.
“We will not allow them to do that to our fishermen,” Rodriguez quoted Mr. Aquino as saying to him, referring to China’s requiring foreign fishermen to seek its permission before going to the South China Sea.
Rodriguez said the President had instructed his Cabinet officials to support Congress in opposing the new Chinese policy.
He said his resolution would demand China’s immediate withdrawal of the new fishing rules in the West Philippine Sea; recall its air defense identification zone in the East China Sea and forgo any plan to declare a similar zone in the West Philippine Sea, and stop incursions by its military and commercial vessels in Philippine waters.
Air defense zone
Beijing late last year declared the air defense zone in the East China Sea covering islands administered by Japan also claimed by Beijing.
Beijing required foreign airlines to file flight plans with Chinese authorities before flying into the zone or face unspecified “defensive measures.”
China’s declaration drew opposition from the United States, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines and other allies in the region, with Washington sending two B-52 bombers into the zone to show that it did not recognize it.
Rodriguez said he was bothered by the statement of former Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Ma Keqing that it was China’s right to decide “where and when” to set up the next air defense zone, suggesting that it could declare one in the West Philippine Sea.
“These kinds of statements and moves by China carry the potential of creating dangerous flash points that ultimately raise the stakes for all the countries involved or are affected,” Rodriguez said. With a report from AP
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