On Tuesday (September 26), China issued a warning to the Philippines, cautioning the nation against “stirring up trouble.” This warning came in response to the Philippine Coast Guard’s reported removal of a floating barrier at a disputed reef.
Manila alleged that the reef was deployed by China to block Filipinos from the traditional fishing ground. It also said that the Philippines was “well within its rights” to remove any barrier at the disputed Scarborough Shoal.
In a statement, National Security Adviser Eduardo Ano said that the Philippines is “well within its rights to remove any barrier in Bajo de Masinloc since it infringes on our maritime rights”.
Meanwhile, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin, referring to the shoal by its Chinese name, said that “China firmly upholds the sovereignty and maritime rights and interests of the Huangyan island. We advise the Philippines not to provoke or stir up trouble.”
The recent incident became the latest episode in growing issues in the South China Sea. Beijing claims sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea, while several other countries have overlapping claims to parts of it.
China’s warning came just a day after the Philippines cut a floating 300-m barrier at the shoal making use of coastguard personnel posing as fishermen in a small boat.
Philippine coastguard spokesperson Commodore Jay Tarriela told CNN Philippines: “They might still return the floating barrier once again, they might still do shadowing and dangerous manoeuvres once again.”
In the past few weeks, Manila emerged at the centre of a tense territorial standoff with Beijing in the South China Sea and the recent move to remove the barrier, which the Philippines called a “special operation”, could further strain ties.
Beijing seized the disputed reef from the Philippines in 2012 and deploys coast guard and other vessels to patrol the fishing ground.
Reports have said that the floating barrier prevented fishing boats from entering the shoal’s shallow waters where fish are more abundant. In a video posted by the Philippine Coast Guard, a man wearing snorkelling gear was seen cutting the barrier using a knife.
Philippine officials previously accused the Chinese coast guard of installing the barrier before a Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources ship arrived at the shoal last Wednesday.
The reef sits 240 kilometres west of the Philippines’ main island of Luzon and nearly 900 kilometres from the nearest major Chinese land mass of Hainan.