Philippines Urges China to Allow Scrutiny of Disputed Shoal

Ezra Acayan/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
Philippine Coast Guard spokesperson for the West Philippine Sea Commodore Jay Tarriela (left), National Security Council spokesperson Jonathan Malaya (center), and Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesperson Colonel Medel Aguilar speak to the press during a news conference in response to recent aggression of the Chinese Coast Guard against Philippine vessels in the South China Sea, at the Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila, Philippines, August 07, 2023.

MANILA (Reuters) – The Philippines challenged China on Monday to open Scarborough Shoal to international scrutiny after it accused Beijing of destroying the shoal’s marine environment.

Maritime tension has been rising in the South China Sea between Manila and Beijing, as the Philippines has accused China of using water cannon and blocking maneuvers through disputed shoals and reefs.

Control of the Scarborough Shoal, seized by China in 2012, figured in the Philippines case at a Hague arbitration tribunal, which ruled in 2016 that Beijing’s claim to 90% of the South China Sea had no basis in international law.

“We are alarmed and worried about the situation that’s happening there,” Philippine National Security spokesperson Jonathan Malaya told a press conference.

Government consensus was growing on the need to file a case against China over the destruction of coral reefs, including the harvesting of endangered giant clams, in the South China Sea, Malaya added.

Photographs taken by the Philippine coast guard from 2018 to 2019 showed individuals it said were Chinese fishermen illegally harvesting giant clams, sting rays, topshells and sea turtles depleting the shoal’s marine environment.

“That’s a clear evidence of being careless. They don’t really care about the marine environment,” Jay Tarriela, the coast guard spokesperson, told Monday’s conference.

China’s embassy in Manila did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but Beijing has repeatedly denied it is destroying coral reefs.

“If you really believe in what you’re saying, open up Bajo de Masinloc to international scrutiny, it has to be a third party,” Malaya said, using Manila’s name for the Scarborough Shoal.

Last week, China’s coast guard published rules to enforce a 2021 law allowing authorities to fire on foreign vessels when its sovereignty and sovereign rights are infringed.

Malaya said China had no authority over the high seas and the latest regulations went contrary to international law, dismissing them as a “scare tactic” to intimidate and coerce Asian neighbors.

“The Philippines will not be intimidated nor coerced by the Chinese Coast Guard. We will never succumb to these scare tactics,” he said.