MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The Philippine government filed a diplomatic protest after Chinese forces seized fishing equipment set up by Filipinos in a disputed shoal in their latest territorial spat in the South China Sea.
The Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila said in a statement Thursday night that the Philippines “also resolutely objected” to China continuing to issue radio challenges to Philippine aircraft patrolling over the disputed waters.
A Chinese government spokesperson responded Friday that its coast guard was enforcing the law in Chinese waters, and that the Philippine aircraft had harmed China’s sovereignty and threatened its security.
“China urges the Philippines to immediately stop its illegal and provocative activities,” foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said at a daily briefing in Beijing.
The Philippine government has protested China’s increasingly aggressive actions in the contested sea despite a dramatic improvement in relations under President Rodrigo Duterte, who has nurtured friendly ties with Beijing while often criticizing the United States, which has raised alarm over his deadly anti-drug crackdown.
The Philippine foreign affairs department did not immediately provide other details of what it said was the Chinese coast guard’s illegal confiscation of the fishing equipment. The devices, locally called “payaos,” were seized in May after they had been set up by Filipino fishermen in disputed Scarborough Shoal off the northwestern Philippine province of Zambales.
China seized the shoal after a tense sea standoff in 2012, and the Philippines brought its disputes to international arbitration the following year. The tribunal in 2016 invalidated China’s claims to virtually the entire South China Sea, but Beijing continues to ignore and defy the decision.
Radio warnings by Chinese forces against Philippine air force patrol aircraft have increased around missile-protected Chinese artificial islands, Philippine officials said.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has accused China of taking advantage of the intense preoccupation of governments with the pandemic to advance its territorial claims.
Last month, the U.S. government rejected nearly all of Beijing’s South China Sea claims and in effect sided with the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei in each of their territorial spats with Beijing. China responded by saying the U.S. was trying to sow discord and was meddling in an Asian dispute to flex its muscles and incite a confrontation.
Separately, Manila city officials said they have closed four stores selling Chinese beauty products with labels that identified the Philippine capital as a province of China. They accused the stores of “misrepresentation” and violating other business regulations.
Manila Mayor Francisco “Isko” Moreno has taken steps to have two Chinese businessmen associated with the beauty products investigated and deported.
“This is unacceptable,” Moreno said, vowing he would not allow the country’s sovereignty to be disparaged. “I’m not a governor of China.”
Associated Press writer Ken Moritsugu in Beijing contributed to this story.
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