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Philippines rejects 3-month Chinese fishing ban

THE PHILIPPINES on Tuesday rejected China’s fishing ban in parts of the South China Sea and asked it to stop violating the Southeast Asian nation’s sovereignty.

In a statement, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said China’s three-month fishing moratorium that started on May 1 covers areas over which the Philippines controls.

“These waters include areas over which the Philippines exercises sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction,” the agency said.

“The Philippines strongly urges China to desist from any action and activity that infringes on Philippine sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction, in contravention of international law,” it added.

DFA said China’s annual fishing moratorium extends far beyond its legitimate maritime entitlements under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea “and is without basis under international law,” DFA said.

“China cannot legally impose nor legally enforce such a moratorium in the West Philippine Sea,” it added, referring to areas of the sea within the country’s exclusive economic zone.

A United Nations arbitration court in 2016 rejected China’s claim to more than 80% of the South China Sea. The Philippines under President Benigno S.C. Aquino III filed the lawsuit that critics said Mr. Duterte had failed to pursue.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr. on May 13 ordered his agency to file another diplomatic protest against China for the continued presence of almost 300 ships in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.

Philippine President Rodrigo R. Duterte on Monday night barred his Cabinet from talking in public about the country’s sea dispute with China, which some of his ministers had rebuked for its actions in the disputed waterway.

He said only his spokesman could talk about the issue publicly.

Mr. Locsin this month minced no words in telling the Chinese to get out of Philippine waters in the South China Sea, cussing at its neighbor for failing to reciprocate its goodwill.

The presidential palace later distanced itself from Mr. Locsin. Presidential spokesman Herminio L. Roque, Jr. said Mr. Duterte is against the use of profanities in the field of diplomacy.

Mr. Locsin later apologized to his Chinese counterpart, Foreign Minister Wang Yi, after his expletive-laden tweet.

Defense Secretary Delfin N. Lorenzana had also told Chinese ships in the disputed sea to leave.

Mr. Roque on Tuesday said only he and Mr. Locsin could talk about the sea dispute in public.

He said a Philippine task force on border patrols had also been barred from commenting on the issue.

The task force earlier said 287 Chinese ships were still in Philippine waters, many of them spotted near artificial islands built by China, while some were near islands occupied by Manila, based on patrols made on May 9.

Two Houbei class missile warships were also near Mischief Reef, while two Vietnamese logistics ships and a VN Coast Guard vessel were at Grierson Reef, it said.

Thirty-four Chinese ships also remained at Whitsun Reef, which the Philippines also claims.

The government would continue to defend its sovereign rights and jurisdiction over the “West Philippine Sea,” the task force said, referring to areas of the waterway within the country’s exclusive economic zone.

Mr. Roque said the Philippines would continue to “patrol relevant areas to assert what is ours.” “Our principled position and stand on the West Philippine Sea remains. Our vessels will continue.”

Aside from the Philippines and China, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan also claim parts of the waterway.

Mr. Duterte had said the Philippines and China could settle the dispute peacefully. He also said China was a benefactor, citing vaccine donations and investments from its neighbor.

The tough-talking leader also said he never promised during his presidential campaign to retake the country’s territories in the South China Sea.

He rebuked retired Supreme Court Justice Antonio T. Carpio and former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, who have spoken against his foreign policy on China, for forcing him to quarrel with his neighbor.

But Mr. Carpio belied the President’s claim, noting that during the campaign, he had promised to fight for Philippine sovereignty over the South China Sea.

He said Mr. Duterte had promised to ride a jet ski to Scarborough Shoal and plant the Philippine flag there.

Mr. Duterte earlier said he was just joking. — V.M.M. Villegas

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