Philippines military defends fishermen rights in South China Sea against China detention regulations News
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Philippines military defends fishermen rights in South China Sea against China detention regulations

The chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines stated on Friday that the military and other maritime law enforcement agencies are prepared to defend Filipino fishermen from China’s “anti-trespassing policy,” reinforcing the fishermen’s right to fish in the West Philippine Sea.

General Romeo Brawner Jr. reaffirmed that Filipino fishermen should continue their fishing activities as normal, emphasizing that the military will protect the fishermen’s right to the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea.

The China Coast Guard issued Order No. 3 on May 15, authorizing its personnel to detain foreign ships and crews for 30 to 60 days without trial within waters claimed by China. The regulation applies to “administrative cases that occur in the waters under the jurisdiction” of China. Although the document does not reference the South China Sea, China’s claim to almost the entire waterway has caused disputes with the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam. The order is due to take effect on June 15.

The order increased concerns about the geographical scope of China’s maritime claims, particularly its assertion of “indisputable sovereignty over the islands in the South China Sea and the adjacent waters” and claim to “sovereign rights and jurisdiction over the relevant waters as well as the seabed and subsoil.”

A statement from the Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs noted that China’s new regulation “illegally expanded the maritime law enforcement powers of China’s Coast Guard.” The department also stated that enforcing these regulations would constitute a “direct violation of international law” particularly affecting the “areas of the West Philippine Sea.” The Philippines typically uses the term ‘West Philippine Sea’ to refer to parts of the South China Sea within its exclusive economic zone, where it holds sovereignty and jurisdiction.

President of the New Masinloc Fishermen’s Association Leonardo Cuaresma supported Brawner’s stance, emphasizing the innocence of Filipino fishermen. Colonel Xerxes Trinidad, Chief of the AFP Public Affairs Office, criticized China’s regulation as a threat to the rule of law and international maritime norms. Trinidad described China’s actions as “illegal, coercive, aggressive and deceptive,” and asserted that the Philippines will “not be deterred or intimidated.”

Meanwhile, Beijing’s foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning defended Order No.3, stating that it is designed to standardize Chinese law enforcement measures and “better uphold order at sea.” Ning reassured that “individuals and entities should not worry unless they engage in illegal activities.”

Tension in the South China Sea has escalated in recent years, particularly between the Philippines and China. The latter has claimed much of the sea under its Nine-Dash Line approach and has used military forces to assert its territorial claims. The Philippines has also asserted claims to the region, particularly on fishing grounds.

Relations between the countries have further increased in recent months. In March, Philippine officials accused the Chinese Coast Guard of hitting a Philippine supply boat with water cannons in the South China Sea. In May, the Philippines deployed ships to the sea, claiming China was creating an “artificial island” by destroying coral reefs.