China claims control of Scarborough waters

Posted at 05/24/2012 8:42 PM | Updated as of 05/25/2012 12:25 PM

MANILA, Philippines - China now has control of the waters of Scarborough shoal amid Beijing's simmering territorial dispute with the Philippines, a Chinese Foreign Ministry official said.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei, in a statement published online on Thursday by state-owned China.org.cn, said his country "strengthened controls... in response to the provocative actions of the Philippines."

The statement carried the photo of a Chinese patrol ship, which reached Scarborough's waters April 20 "and conducted law enforcement in the area," according to the state news agency Xinhua.

Hong denied that Beijing now has 100 ships in Scarborough's waters.

He said only 20 Chinese fishing boats are in the area, "roughly the same number as in previous years."

"The operating manners of the fishing boats is consistent with China's relevant laws as well as China's fishing moratorium orders," Hong said.

The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Wednesday said it had sent a note verbale to the Chinese embassy in Manila to express its grve concern over China's continuing aggressive moves involving the disputed shoal that lies within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone.

The DFA said it received reports from the Philippine Coast Guard on the rising number Chinese government vessels and fishing ships in the area.

On May 21, the Coast Guard said it tracked 5 Chinese government vessels, 16 Chinese fishing boats, and 56 utility boats in the shoal's waters.

"It is regrettable that these actions occurred at a time when China has been articulating for a deescalation of tensions and while the two sides have been discussing how to defuse the situation in the area," the DFA said.

"The Philippines protests these actions of China as clear violations of Philippine sovereignty and jurisdiction over the Shoal and sovereign rights over the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) that covers the waters around Bajo de Masinloc," it added.

The DFA said China's actions violate the ASEAN-China Declaration of Conduct on the South China Sea, specifically paragraph 5 that calls on signatories "to exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability including, among others, refraining from action of inhabiting on the presently uninhabited islands, reefs, shoals, cays, and other features and to handle their differences in a constructive manner."

"The recent actions of China are also in violation of the United Nations Charter, specifically Article 2.4, which provides the following: All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations," the DFA added.

"The Philippines, therefore, demands that China’s vessels immediately pull out from Bajo de Masinloc and the Philippines’ EEZ and for China to refrain from taking further actions that exacerbate the situation in the West Philippine Sea," it said.

The DFA said discussions to defuse the tensions at Scarborough shoal are continuing.