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South China Sea: Filipino activists, fishermen sail 100-boat flotilla to disputed shoal

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Chinese coast guard ships followed a group of Filipino activists and fishermen sailing in wooden boats toward a disputed shoal in the South China Sea, which Beijing has fiercely guarded from what he considers intruders.

The Philippine Coast Guard deployed three patrol vessels and a light aircraft to remotely monitor the group of about 100 people, who set out from the western province of Zambales to assert Manila’s sovereignty over Scarborough Reef and surrounding waters. Dozens of journalists took part in the three-day trip.

The navy also dispatched a ship to monitor the participants.

The four wooden boats carrying the Filipinos were still far from the shoal when at least two Chinese coast guard ships began following them after dark, said Emman Hizon, one of the organizers, adding that the participants remained in good spirits and would not turn back.

Some chanted “Atin Ito” – the group’s name, meaning “This is ours” in Tagalog – repeatedly after spotting the Chinese coast guard vessels.

“The Atin Ito contingent will continue its course,” Hizon said.

“Our boats are exercising evasive maneuvers while the Philippine Coast Guard continues to maintain proximity to the convoy to thwart any further attempts by the Chinese Coast Guard vessels,” Hizon said.

The convoy was expected to reach the area around the shoal on Thursday morning, organizers said, adding that they would seek to avoid clashes but were prepared for any eventuality. The group plans to lay symbolic territorial buoys and provide food and fuel to Filipino fishermen on the high seas near the shoal.

“Our mission is peaceful, based on international law and aimed at asserting our sovereign rights,” said Rafaela David, one of the lead organizers. “We will navigate with determination, not provocation, to civilize the region and safeguard our territorial integrity. »

In December, the group organized an expedition to another disputed shoal, but cut the trip short after being followed by a Chinese ship.

China effectively seized Scarborough Reef, a triangle-shaped atoll with a vast fishing lagoon surrounded by mostly submerged coral outcrops, by surrounding it with its coast guard ships after a standoff tense in 2012 with Philippine government ships.

Angered by China’s action, the Philippine government took the disputes to international arbitration in 2013 and largely won with a Hague court ruling three years later that China’s broad claims were based on historical grounds. in the busy shipping lane were invalid under the 1982 United Nations Convention on International Trade. Law of the sea.

The decision declared Scarborough Reef a traditional fishing area for Chinese, Filipino and Vietnamese fishermen. In the past, fishermen anchored in the shoal to avoid the huge waves on the open sea during stormy weather.

China refused to participate in the arbitration, rejected the outcome and continues to challenge it.

Two weeks ago, Chinese coast guard and suspected militia vessels used water cannons on Philippine coast guard and fishing vessels patrolling Scarborough Reef, damaging both vessels.

The Philippines condemned the Chinese coast guard’s action on the shoal, which is within the Southeast Asian country’s internationally recognized exclusive economic zone. China’s coast guard said it took a “necessary action” after the Philippine vessels “violated China’s sovereignty.”

Asked about the Atin Ito convoy on Wednesday, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said: “If the Philippine side abuses China’s goodwill and undermines China’s sovereignty and territorial jurisdiction, the China will safeguard its rights and take countermeasures in accordance with the law, and the responsibilities and consequences incurred will be fully borne by the Philippine side.

In addition to the Philippines and China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan were also affected. involved in territorial conflicts.

Chinese coast guard vessels had also ventured into waters near Vietnam, Malaysia and the Indonesia in the past sparking tensions and protests, but Southeast Asian countries with considerable economic ties to China have not been as aggressively critical of Beijing’s increasingly assertive actions .

The Philippines has released videos of its territorial confrontations with China and invited journalists to witness hostilities on the high seas. in a strategy to gain international supporttriggering a war of words with Beijing.

The increasing frequency of skirmishes between the Philippines and China has led to minor collisions, injuries to Philippine navy personnel and damaged supply boats in recent months. This has led to fears that territorial conflicts could escalate into a armed conflict between China and the United Statesa long-time ally of the Philippines.

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Follow AP’s Asia-Pacific coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/asia-pacific

News Source : apnews.com
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