(Reuters) — China said on Wednesday (February 26) that the Philippines was to blame for an incident in disputed waters in the South China Sea in which Manila said Chinese ships used a water cannon on Filipino fishermen.
The Philippines on Tuesday (February 25) lodged a protest with China over the matter, saying the Chinese were trying to prevent the fishermen from fishing in Philippine waters around Scarborough Shoal.
China’s Foreign Ministry, which has already rejected the complaint, said its boats had every right to respond to “provocative” acts in Chinese territory.
“According to our information based on (investigation) in the scene, some fishing ships did not really carry out fishing activities but sought the chance to hang around and ignored calls to leave from the Chinese ships, and some of the people on the (fishing) boats even adopted a provocative posture that they are spoiling for a fight. The activities of the relevant Philippine boats showed a strong level of organisation and confrontation, so China has every reason to suspect their real identities and aims,” spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a daily news briefing.
“In the face of this seriously provocative behaviour, China maintained upmost restraint, and as multiple warnings failed could not but take the minimum measures to carry out expulsions, which caused no harm to the Philippine fishing boats or personnel,” Hua added.
The Philippines was guilty of seizing Chinese fishing boats in the South China Sea, she said.
Since the beginning of the year, China has required foreign fishing boats to get approval before entering waters that it claims as its own.
On Jan. 27, a Chinese coastguard vessel tried to drive away Filipino fishermen from ScarboroughShoal by using a water cannon, General Emmanuel Bautista, the head of Philippine military said on Monday (February 24).
China claims about 90 percent of the South China Sea’s 3.5 million sq km (1.35 million sq mile) waters. The sea provides 10 percent of the global fish catch, carries $5 trillion in ship-borne trade a year and its seabed is believed to be rich with energy reserves.
Taiwan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei and Vietnam also claim parts of the sea.
The Philippines has urged ASEAN to conclude a binding code of conduct with China to avoid accidents and miscalculations in the disputed waters.
The Philippines has taken its dispute with China to arbitration under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea but China is refusing to participate in the case.
China has rejected challenges to its sovereignty claims and accused the Philippines of illegally occupying Chinese islands in the seas and of provoking tension.