China installing a “floating barrier” in a disputed area of the South China Sea sparked fury from the Philippines on Sunday.
The Philippines’ coast guard discovered the 300 meter-long (roughly 1,000 foot) barrier near the Scarborough Shoal, a rock located roughly 120 miles off the coast of the Philippines’ Zambales province, the country’s coast guard spokesperson Jay Tarriela wrote in a statement posted to X, formerly known as Twitter, late Saturday evening. Scarborough Shoal has been disputed between China and the Philippines, but was taken by China in 2012.
Tarriela wrote that Manila “strongly condemns” the barrier, which prevents Filipino fishing boats from “from entering the shoal and depriving them of their fishing and livelihood activities.”
The dispute is the latest territorial agreement involving China in the South China Sea, of which Beijing claims 90 percent control of, amid ongoing tensions between the two countries. Several clashes between the two over various rocks and islands in the sea have occurred this year, including a dispute in July. China has taken a strong stance over its claimed territory in recent years as tensions with the West and its Indo-Pacific allies have continued to fray over a number of issues including Taiwan and the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The barrier was discovered by the coast guard and Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) ships on routine maritime patrol, according to Tarriela. Filipino fishermen who work in the area have said that China installs these barriers whenever they monitor a large number of Filipino fisherman in the area, he added.
During that patrol, the BFAR provided the fishermen with grocery items and fuel when four Chinese coast guard vessels initiated radio challenges to drive them away, alleging that their presence violated international law, Tarriela wrote.
“The Commandant of the Philippine Coast Guard, Admiral Artemio Abu, expresses his commitment to supporting the BFAR and other national government agencies in their efforts to ensure the safety and security of our Filipino fishermen. The PCG will continue to work closely with all concerned government agencies to address these challenges, uphold our maritime rights and protect our maritime domains,” he wrote in his X post.
Newsweek reached out to China’s International Press Center for comment via email.
The dispute comes just days after the Philippines accused China of destroying coral reefs within its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the South China Sea, pledging to take legal action over broken and bleached reefs, onetime vibrant aquatic ecosystems, Reuters reported. China, however, dismissed the concerns as an effort to create “political drama.”
Manila said in July that a Filipino crew was warned to “seriously consider the solemn stand of the Chinese government” during a resupplying mission near Second Thomas Shoal, which has been in dispute for decades.
In March, the Philippines said it was tracking dozens of armed Chinese fishing vessels that allegedly encircled the island of Thitu, another disputed territory, in an effort to assert its claims over the area.
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