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China warns Philippines not to provoke after removal of floating barrier at disputed reef

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Beijing has warned Manila not to “stir up trouble” after the Philippine coastguard removed a floating barrier at a disputed reef that was deployed by China to block Filipinos from the traditional fishing ground within their country’s own exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

“China firmly upholds the sovereignty and maritime rights and interests of the Huangyan island,” Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Wang Wenbin said, referring to the shoal by its Chinese name. “We advise the Philippines not to provoke or stir up trouble.

The Philippine authorities had said earlier that they will take “all appropriate actions” for the removal of barriers, which they say endanger Filipinos fishing in the Scarborough Shoal, which Manila also refers to as Bajo de Masinloc.

So what set off the latest feud between China and the Philippines in the disputed South China Sea?

The incident occurred as tensions escalate between China and the Philippines over other areas of the South China Sea, foremost of which are the Spratly Islands.

China claims sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea while several other countries, including the Philippines, have overlapping claims to parts of it.

Beijing’s claim that it controls almost the entire waterway was nullified by The Hague’s Permanent Court of Arbitration in a 2016 ruling, which called it groundless.

On Friday, the Philippine coastguard said it discovered a barrier about 300 metres (985ft) long during a “routine maritime patrol?

The barrier was guarded by Chinese coastguard boats, according to images posted by Philippine authorities.

When Filipino fishermen approached the area, four Chinese coastguard vessels reportedly initiated a series of 15 radio challenges “in an attempt to drive away” their vessels.

On Monday, the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s Wang justified the move, saying its coastguard took necessary measures in accordance with the law to drive away Filipino fishermen.

Later on Monday, Filipino authorities removed the buoys on the orders of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr, angering Beijing.

According to historical records, the term Scarborough Shoal was first used by the British after its merchant vessel, the Scarborough, was briefly shipwrecked in the area on September 12, 1748, while on its way to China.

Claiming historic rights as one of the first people to explore the area, China claimed the sea feature as part of its territory in recent decades and started to refer to it as Huangyan (Yellow Rock) Island.

But the chain of reefs and rocks is not even an island, according to the Permanent Court of Arbitration.

In 2012, Beijing seized control of it and forced Filipino fishermen to travel farther for smaller catches.

The Philippines continues to insist that it has fishing rights over the disputed area because it is part of its EEZ.

What does international law say?

The 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which China helped codify and then ratified in 1996, defines EEZs as generally extending 200 nautical miles (370km) from shore, within which the coastal state has the exclusive right to explore and exploit.

The coastal state also has the responsibility to conserve and manage the living and non-living resources there.

As defined by UNCLOS, Scarborough Shoal is within the EEZ of Manila because it is 120 nautical miles (222km) from the Philippine island of Luzon. In contrast, Scarborough Shoal is about 594 nautical miles (1,100km) from China’s Hainan Island.

The 2016 ruling issued by the Permanent Court of Arbitration states that Scarborough Shoal is not an island, but a rock feature, and is not entitled to an EEZ or a continental shelf, thus nullifying the claim of China.

China did not participate in The Hague case filed by the Philippines and said it will not recognize the ruling.

Rachel Adams

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