26th September 2023 – (Manila) The Philippines announced on Tuesday that China’s coastguard had removed the remnants of a floating barrier, which was severed by Filipino counterparts at the fiercely contested Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea. The incident did not escalate into a standoff or show signs of aggression.
On Monday, the Philippines conducted a “special operation” to cut a 300-meter barrier installed by China at Scarborough Shoal, a highly disputed maritime feature in Asia. This move is expected to further strain the already deteriorating ties between the two countries.
Commodore Jay Tarriela, a spokesperson for the Philippine coastguard, stated that China’s coastguard responded calmly when a Philippine vessel reached its closest point to the rocky outcrop since China seized control of it in 2012.
The Philippine coastguard, disguised as regular fishermen aboard a small boat, later cut the ball-buoy barrier and removed the anchor. Tarriela provided these details in an interview with DWPM radio and ANC news channel.
Tarriela mentioned that four Chinese coastguard vessels were present in the area but did not display aggressive behavior after observing media personnel on board a Philippine ship.
A few hours after discovering that the barrier was no longer aligned and blocking the lagoon, the Chinese coastguard removed the barriers, according to Tarriela.
The Scarborough Shoal, a prime fishing spot located approximately 200km off the coast of the Philippines within its exclusive economic zone, has been a subject of sovereignty disputes for decades.
China did not directly mention the barrier in its response but stated that its coastguard had repelled a Philippine vessel that “intruded” into its waters.
Tensions over the shoal have fluctuated between the Philippines and China over the years. Under the previous pro-China administration in Manila, tensions had decreased. However, relations have soured in the past year as President Ferdinand Marcos Jr, who authorised the cutting of the barrier, seeks closer defence ties with the United States, including access to Philippine military bases.
China claims ownership of nearly the entire South China Sea, including Scarborough Shoal, despite a 2016 arbitration ruling that declared such claims baseless. China does not recognise the ruling.
Regarding the removal of the barrier, Philippine Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo stated on Tuesday that the action was consistent with the country’s stance on the South China Sea.
Manalo added, “Technically, we had the right to practice our sovereignty and sovereign rights, so it would have been consistent with our position.”