The Philippines has declared its commitment to removing what it claims to be obstructive Chinese barriers at Scarborough Shoal. The move follows the discovery of a 300-meter-long floating barrier last week, allegedly placed by the Chinese coast guard to restrict Filipino fishermen’s access to the traditional fishing grounds near the contested reef.
The Scarborough Shoal, located approximately 240 kilometers west of the Philippines’ main island of Luzon, has been a flashpoint in territorial disputes between China and the Philippines since China’s seizure of the shoal in 2012. Chinese coast guard vessels have been patrolling the area, but the recent installation of the floating barrier has escalated tensions.
The floating barrier, which was encountered during a routine resupply mission to Filipino fishermen, effectively blocks access to the shoal’s shallow waters, where fish are abundant. Philippine authorities have accused the Chinese coast guard of installing the barrier shortly before the arrival of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources ship.
National Security Adviser Eduardo Ano issued a strong statement on Monday, pledging, “We will take all appropriate actions to cause the removal of the barriers and to protect the rights of our fishermen in the area.” Ano further asserted that the installation of such barriers violated the traditional fishing rights of Filipino fishermen, rights that were affirmed by a 2016 Arbitral ruling.
However, China has staunchly defended its sovereignty over Scarborough Shoal, with Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin stating, “Scarborough Shoal is an inherent part of China, and China has indisputable sovereignty over it and its surrounding waters.” This stance is at odds with the 2016 international court ruling, which rejected China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea.
The situation has raised concerns about the livelihood of Filipino fishermen, who depend on Scarborough Shoal as a key source of income and a safe haven during storms. The Philippine foreign ministry has vowed to “take all appropriate measures to protect our country’s sovereignty and the livelihood of our fisherfolk,” without specifying the exact actions it plans to take.
As diplomatic tensions escalate in the South China Sea, the international community closely watches the Philippines’ efforts to remove the disputed barriers and protect the interests of its fishermen.