Philippines reports harassment of its fishermen by Chinese ships near Scarborough

Filipino fishermen on a boat at the entry point of the country's main seaport in Manila on Sept 24, 2016.
Filipino fishermen on a boat at the entry point of the country's main seaport in Manila on Sept 24, 2016.PHOTO: EPA

MANILA - The Philippines said on Tuesday (Sept 27) that Filipino fishermen were harassed earlier this month by China's Coast Guard near a disputed atoll some 200km off its main island of Luzon.

In a report, the Philippine Coast Guard said three Chinese coast guard ships chased away three Philippine fishing boats near Scarborough shoal on Sept 6.

There was a brief chase and heated exchanges, the report said. The fishermen eventually managed to stay near the shoal overnight, but left quickly in the morning, fearing more harassment from the Chinese.

On Sept 10, another Philippine fishing boat was chased away from Scarborough. Rubber boats from a Chinese ship encircled it, and photos and videos of the boat's crew were taken.

These skirmishes happened amid calls by President Rodrigo Duterte to let Filipinos fish near Scarborough shoal and elsewhere in the South China Sea inside the Philippines' 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone

Mr Duterte has been sending entreaties for warmer ties with Beijing.

Relations between the Philippines and China plummeted under his predecessor Benigno Aquino, who pursued a more aggressive tack towards dealing with China.

On Monday (Sept 26), Mr Duterte said he would "open alliances"" with China, as well as Russia, as he again signalled a shift away from the United States, a long-time ally and China's rival for influence in the region.

The Philippines was at the "point of no return" in relations with the US, he said.

Mr Duterte had also ordered defence officials to shop for weapons from China and Russia, and end joint patrols with the US in the South China Sea.

He said the Philippines would keep its patrols within its 12-nautical-mile territorial sea.

"We keep ourselves there. I don't want to join patrols with any army because I don't want any trouble… I don't want to go gung-ho with China or America," he said.

China claims most of the South China Sea, through which more than US$5 trillion (S$6.8 trillion) of trade moves annually. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam have rival claims.

An arbitration tribunal at The Hague in July invalidated China's claims to the waterway in a case brought by the Philippines, and defined waters around Scarborough as "traditional fishing grounds".

rdancel@sph.com.sg