Chinese troops expel fishing vessels from disputed waters

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A recently released Chinese military video shows People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops on Chinese-occupied islands in the South China Sea displacing fishing vessels from neighboring countries, despite a tribunal ruling against Chinese claims.

Government-controlled national military broadcaster CCTV-7 reported Monday that during last weekend’s Mid-Autumn Festival holiday, soldiers stationed on Mischief Reef, an artificial island China has occupied since 1994, “successfully” alerted an unidentified foreign fishing boat from surrounding waters.

In 2016, an international tribunal in The Hague ruled that Mischief Reef, 250 kilometers east of the island of Palawan in the Philippines, lies at low tide and therefore cannot have a 12-mile territorial sea, invalidating China’s sovereignty claim over the sea.

It is also located in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of the Philippines and has been a traditional fishing ground for Filipino fishermen for decades.

An EEZ is a sea area in which a sovereign state has exclusive rights with respect to the exploration and use of marine resources.

Philippine fishermen unload fish after arrival of the controversial Scarborough Shoal, in Infanta, Pangasinan province, Philippines, July 6, 2021. CREDIT: Reuters

The CCTV clip showed armed soldiers, assisted by radars and warships, responding to a sighting of a fishing boat of “unknown nationality” and using loudspeakers to chase it away.

Troops also regularly trained with naval and air targets to bolster combat readiness, the report said.

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Also claimed by the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam, Mischief Reef is one of China’s first reclaimed and fortified islands and also its largest. It features a major port, a military base with missile systems, and a 3,000-meter (1.9-mile) runway.

In March, US Indo-Pacific Commander Adm. John C. Aquilino said construction of missile arsenals, aircraft hangars, radar systems and other military facilities at Mischief Reef, Subi Reef and Fiery Cross “appear to be complete.”

“They threaten all nations operating nearby and all international sea and airspace,” he added.

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Caption: Chinese troops in a planning meeting on Mischief Reef in the South China Sea. CREDIT: CCTV-7

Harass Indonesian fishermen

The CCTV report also mentioned other Chinese-occupied islands within the Spratly archipelago, including the Johnson South, Fiery Cross, Subi, Cuarteron, Gaven and Hughes reefs, which state that “soldiers and officers remain on watch day and night” to protect the to protect China’s sovereignty.

All features were deemed rocks by the Hague tribunal in 2016 and China’s sweeping maritime claims are illegal, but Beijing has always refused to accept the ruling.

Six parties claim parts of the South China Sea, but China’s claims are the most extensive.

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Not only limiting the access of fishermen from other countries to their old fishing grounds, the Chinese coast guard and law enforcement vessels have also been accused of harassing their fishing vessels.

Indonesian media reported that on Saturday a Chinese Coast Guard vessel was caught “roaming within the Indonesian EEZ” and harassing many smaller Indonesian fishing boats in the North Natuna Sea.

Locals also said Chinese fishing vessels have been illegally sailing at sea for the past two years. Some of them even came as far as 35.6 kilometers from Pulau Laut, the most remote island of the Natuna archipelago.

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Philippine activists protest the sixth anniversary of the Hague tribunal ruling outside the Chinese consular office in Makati City, Philippines, July 12, 2022. CREDIT: Reuters

Diplomatic protests in Manila

Philippine fishermen, for their part, are complaining about Chinese activity near Scarborough Shoal, another fishing area in the Philippines’ EEZ.

“Given the increase in both demand and scarcity, it would be wise to assume that long-term access to what remains of the fish stocks in the South China Sea would be one of Beijing’s top priorities,” Thomas said. Daniel, a senior fellow at Malaysia Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS).

“It has long been a practice for state-affiliated vessels from China, primarily the Coast Guard and associated agencies, and the maritime militias, to harass and harass what they perceive to be illegal fishing in its EEZs. scared,” Daniel said.

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“While Vietnam and the Philippines bore most of the initial burden, incidents are now increasingly observed in the southern parts of the South China Sea, affecting Malaysian and Indonesian fishermen,” the analyst said.

Ever since President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. took office in June, the Philippine government has filed 48 diplomatic protests against Beijing over the aggressive behavior of Chinese ships in the South China Sea, which it calls the West Philippine Sea.

Maria Angela Ponce, deputy secretary of state, told a hearing in the Philippine Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday that “the protests related to the illegal presence of foreign fishing vessels and maritime militia vessels, illegal fishing, harassment of fishermen and enforcement agencies and unauthorized marine scientific research. ,” according to Philippine media.

Senator Imee Marcos, head of the commission, said diplomatic protests had so far been ineffective and the government needed to devise a more effective strategy to counter China’s increasing presence in the South China Sea.