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China’s coast guard chased a Philippine warship off a shoal in the South China Sea

China’s coast guard stated on Tuesday it chased a Philippine warship off a disputed shoal in the South China Sea, as tensions between the two countries over rich fishing grounds escalated.

Coast Guard spokesman Gan Yu reported the Philippine ship entered waters near the Scarborough Shoal, which China calls Huangyan Island, but the vessel ignored “repeated calls” to turn back.

The Chinese coast guard took necessary measures to expel the Philippine ship in accordance with the law, such as following it and forcing it out and controlling its route.

Philippine Military Chief of Staff General Romeo Brawner Jr. stated that authorities were still investigating the alleged incident, but believed it was more “propaganda from the Chinese” than an actual confrontation.

“If we ever have a ship there, we will not agree to be driven away (from our) exclusive economic zone. It’s our right to make sure that our fishermen can fish in our economic zone.”

The Scarborough Shoal is located in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, west of the main island of Luzon. China has claimed it since 2012 as part of a bid to claim rights to almost the entire South China Sea, which has also sparked disputes with Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.

Conflicts in the South China Sea are considered a potential hotspot in Asia and a delicate fault line of US-China rivalry in the region. Washington does not claim the territories, but US Navy ships and fighter jets have been patrolling for decades to ensure freedom of navigation on the important waterway and to appease China’s expansionist claims.

Last month, the Chinese Coast Guard erected a 300-metre (980-foot) long floating barrier to obstruct the entrance to the Scarborough Shoal lagoon and prevent Filipino boats from entering there.

A few days later, the Philippine Coast Guard secretly removed the barrier on the orders of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., which infuriated China.

Gan, a spokesman for the Chinese Coast Guard, claimed that “China has indisputable sovereignty over Huangyan Island and its adjacent waters,” and that Tuesday’s passage of the Philippine ship was “legitimate and legal.”

The Philippines’ actions infringe on China’s sovereignty and seriously violate international law and basic norms of international relations. We urge the Philippines to immediately stop its infringement.

Since Marcos came to power last year, the Philippines has intensified efforts to counter China’s persistent moves.

Following the barrage incident, the Philippines fears that the Chinese Coast Guard may attempt to establish a similar floating blockade at the entrance to the Second Thomas Shoal, which is several hundred kilometres southwest of the Scarborough Shoal. It is operated by a small contingent of the Philippine navy on a long-stalled warship, but is surrounded by Chinese coast guard vessels.

Last week, a Chinese Coast Guard ship came within a metre (3 feet) of colliding with a Philippine patrol ship near the Second Thomas Shoal, sparking strong condemnation from Manila.

The Philippines claimed on Tuesday that a senior diplomat witnessed the incident aboard a Coast Guard ship. Authorities claim his “firsthand information will allow him to effectively convey our concerns to China.”

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