Thursday, June 21, 2018

Philippines protests China seizure of Filipinos' fish catch

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — China's coast guard has continued to seize the catches of Filipino fishermen at a disputed shoal in the South China Sea despite a protest by the Philippines following an earlier incident, two officials said Friday.

The Philippines expressed concern to China in a meeting in Manila in February after receiving a report of Chinese coast guard personnel boarding a Filipino fishing boat at Scarborough Shoal and taking some of its catch, the officials said, adding that the Philippines sought compensation for the fishermen.

Chinese officials at the meeting "took note" of the concerns and promised to look into the reported incidents, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. China and the Philippines have agreed to hold such meetings to discuss their disputes in the South China Sea.

The Philippines intends to raise its concern again in another meeting with China, possibly in September, due to continuing reports of such incidents, including one reportedly witnessed by a TV news crew on board a fishing boat at Scarborough, the officials said.

Chinese Embassy officials in Manila did not immediately issue any comment.

The Chinese coast guard's reported actions against Filipino fishermen sparked fresh calls for President Rodrigo Duterte's administration to do more to protect Philippine interests in the disputed waters.

After taking power nearly two years ago, Duterte declared he would chart a foreign policy not overly oriented toward the United States, the country's treaty ally. He took steps to revive frosty ties with Beijing while seeking to boost Chinese trade, investment and infrastructure funds.

Antonio Carpio, a senior associate justice of the Supreme Court who has done extensive studies of the territorial disputes, said the Philippines could file a new case against China for violating a 2016 arbitration ruling that invalidated Beijing's extensive territorial claims in the South China sea. The ruling, which China has ignored, also said that China violated the rights of Filipinos who were prevented from fishing at Scarborough, a traditional Asian fishing area.

Former Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said the Philippines could draft a U.N. resolution that would ask China and the international community to abide by the arbitration ruling. Del Rosario spearheaded the arbitration complaint, which the Philippines largely won.

Duterte has refused to immediately demand Chinese compliance with the ruling but has repeatedly said he would take up the arbitration decision with China at an unspecified future time during his presidency.

Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano has said that Duterte's closer engagement with China has eased tensions in the disputed waters and produced positive results, including the resumption of fishing by Filipinos at Scarborough, where they were previously blocked from approaching by Chinese coast guard ships. The Philippines under Duterte has quietly protested certain Chinese actions in disputed areas and avoided noisy public protests to foster diplomatic talks, he said.

Critics and left-wing groups, however, have slammed Duterte for not publicly raising alarm over recent Chinese actions, including the reported installation of missile defense systems on its newly constructed islands and the landing of bomber aircraft capable of carrying nuclear weapons on its main base at Woody Island in the Paracels.

They said Duterte's soft approach has further emboldened China.

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