The Philippine government has urged Filipino fishermen to continue their activities in the West Philippine Sea and ignore China’s annual fishing ban, in yet another sign of tension between the two countries.
In a statement late Tuesday night, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. maintained that local fishermen were not covered by the fishing moratorium imposed by China which runs until August 16.
“This fishing ban does not apply to our fishermen,” said Esperon, who serves as chairperson of the national task force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS).
“The NTF-WPS opposes China’s imposition of the same over the areas within the territory and jurisdiction of the Philippines. The NTF-WPS reiterates that our fisherfolk are encouraged to go out and fish in our waters,” he added.
The Chinese embassy in Manila has yet to comment on the government’s latest pronouncement.
Vietnam, which also claims ownership in some areas in the South China Sea, has also denounced the fishing ban last week.
It said Beijing violated their agreement on the “basic principles guiding the settlement of sea-related issues.”
China has unilaterally enforced the fishing moratorium since 1995, mostly targeting Chinese vessels. It also barred foreign fishing boats within the area since 2002, according to documents.
The move aims to promote “sustainable marine fishery development and improve marine ecology,” according to a report from state-run agency Xinhua.
Xinhua reported that over 50,000 Chinese fishing vessels from Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region and nearby provinces were expected to suspend their fishing operations.
The NTF-WPS, meanwhile, said the country would continue law enforcement patrols and maritime exercises on a rotational basis within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.
It also condemned the Chinese Coast Guard for its “dangerous maneuvers” against its Philippine counterpart in late April in Scarborough, locally known as Panatag Shoal.
The task force said that it also spotted seven Chinese militia vessels on April 27 in Sabina Shoal, located 130 nautical miles off Palawan. The vessels dispersed after being challenged by the Philippine coast guard, the group added.
The Philippines, China, and Vietnam, along with Brunei, Malaysia, and self-governing Taiwan, have been embroiled in a dispute over Beijing’s sweeping claims of sovereignty over the South China Sea.
An international tribunal in 2016 invalidated China’s claims and reaffirmed the Philippines’ rights in the area, but Beijing has rejected the landmark ruling.
Tensions between Manila and Beijing have recently escalated over the “illegal” presence of at least 200 Chinese ships in the resource-rich waterway, prompting the former to lodge diplomatic protests against the latter.
Earlier this week, President Rodrigo Duterte said the Philippines holds a “debt of gratitude” for Chinese aid and other donations such as Covid-19 vaccines, but its territorial waters “cannot be bargained.”
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