On Sunday, the Philippines raised allegations against China’s coastguard for setting up a “floating barrier” in a contentious region of the South China Sea, which it claims prevented Filipino fishermen from accessing and fishing in the area. Commodore Jay Tarriela, a spokesperson for the Philippine coastguard, expressed strong condemnation of China’s actions on the X social media platform.
Tarriela pointed out that the barrier, obstructing fishermen’s access to the Scarborough Shoal, was depriving them of their fishing and livelihood activities. He affirmed the Philippine coastguard’s commitment to collaborate with relevant government agencies to address these challenges, safeguard maritime rights, and protect maritime domains.
China asserts sovereignty over approximately 90 percent of the South China Sea, overlapping with the exclusive economic zones of several other nations, including Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, and the Philippines. In 2012, Beijing seized the Scarborough Shoal, prompting Filipino fishermen to travel farther for reduced catches. While Filipino fishermen were allowed to return to the uninhabited shoal during improved bilateral relations under former President Rodrigo Duterte, tensions have resurfaced since Ferdinand Marcos Jr. took office last year.
The floating barrier, estimated to be around 300 meters (1,000 feet) in length, was discovered by Philippine coastguard and fisheries bureau personnel during a routine patrol on Friday near the shoal, also known as Bajo de Masinloc, according to Tarriela. He noted that three Chinese coastguard rigid-hull inflatable boats and a Chinese maritime militia service boat installed the barrier when the Philippine vessel arrived.
Filipino fishermen have reported that China typically installs such barriers when monitoring a large number of fishermen in the area, Tarriela added. During this incident, Chinese boats issued 15 radio challenges and accused the Philippine ship and fishermen of violating international and Chinese laws. They only retreated upon realizing the presence of media personnel aboard the Filipino vessel.
Amid the ongoing maritime disputes in the resource-rich South China Sea, Philippine Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo announced that his country, along with Japan and the United States, has formed a trilateral alliance to counter Chinese incursions in the region. Manalo highlighted the challenges the Philippines faces concerning sovereign rights and jurisdiction in the West Philippine Sea, which refers to the eastern parts of the South China Sea within its exclusive economic zone and territorial waters.
In addition to China’s aggressive tactics, including using water cannons against Philippine vessels, Manalo mentioned the economic impact of challenges hindering their ability to benefit from the resources in their exclusive economic zone.
Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro accused China of hypocrisy for alleging that the grounded warship BRP Sierra Madre had polluted the South China Sea, calling China’s statement hypocritical and likely to further erode trust in the Chinese government among the Filipino people and the international community.