25th September 2023 – (Manila) In a move that could escalate tensions in the disputed South China Sea, the Philippines announced on Monday that it had carried out a “special operation” to remove a floating barrier installed by China. The barrier, consisting of long, ball-buoy structures, was found near the Scarborough Shoal, a fishing hotspot located 200km from the Philippines. The area has been a source of contention between the two nations, with disputes over sovereignty and fishing rights.
The Philippine coastguard took action to remove the floating cordon, citing concerns over navigation safety and a violation of international law. The barrier was also deemed detrimental to the livelihoods of Filipino fishermen. President Ferdinand Marcos Jr and his special task force on the South China Sea supported the removal. The Philippines considers the shoal an integral part of its national territory.
China’s foreign ministry did not directly address the floating barrier but defended the actions of its coastguard. They claimed that a Philippine fisheries vessel had “intruded” into Chinese waters on Friday, justifying the measures taken by their coastguard.
This recent exchange of criticism highlights the strained relationship between China and the Philippines. Manila’s strengthening military ties with Washington, a rival power to Beijing, has further aggravated tensions. The Scarborough Shoal, which China seized in 2012, has since been occupied by Chinese coastguard and fishing trawlers.
Under former President Rodrigo Duterte, the Philippines pursued a pro-China stance, resulting in a period of peaceful coexistence between Chinese and Filipino fishermen at the shoal since 2017. However, the recent installation of the floating barrier has reignited tensions.
The Philippines has condemned the barrier as a violation of international law and vowed to protect its sovereignty and the livelihoods of its fishermen. Japan’s government has urged calm, emphasizing the importance of regional stability in the South China Sea.
The control of the Scarborough Shoal holds significance for China, as it was part of a legal case filed by the Philippines at the Permanent Court of Arbitration. In 2016, the court ruled that China’s claim to 90% of the South China Sea had no basis under international law. China, however, refused to recognize the ruling. While the court did not address sovereignty over the shoal, it deemed China’s previous blockades in the area as unlawful.
The Philippines is considering legal options against China for alleged coral destruction in its exclusive economic zone. China, on the other hand, maintains that the shoal, known as Huangyan Island to them, falls under its indisputable sovereignty.