Manila says it will respond militarily if China uses force against Filipinos around disputed island
The Philippines said on Monday it would respond militarily if China uses force to drive away Filipinos fishing in waters around a disputed island in the South China Sea.
General Emmanuel Bautista, head of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), issued this warning as a response to reports that ships from China's Coast Guard drove away Filipinos fishing in areas around Scarborough Shoal using water cannons on Jan 27.
"We have to react militarily if force is applied," he said at an event organised by the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines.
When asked about the situation around Scarborough Shoal, Gen Bautista said it is Manila's policy to avoid a confrontation with Chinese vessels patrolling the South China Sea.
But he stressed that it is the AFP's duty to defend Filipinos when they are subjected to "armed violence" within Philippine territories.
China claims almost all of the South China Sea but the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have overlapping claims.
At a daily news briefing on Monday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying said she was not aware of details of the situation, and repeated that China had sovereignty over the South China Sea and its islands.
"I want to emphasise China's indisputable sovereignty of the Nansha islands and other areas surrounding it. China's relevant naval capabilities will continue its official patrols of the area as per usual," she said.
Tensions between the Philippines and China have risen in recent years as Beijing becomes more aggressive in asserting its claims.
Last month, China also announced a new fisheries law that requires foreign vessels to seek permits for activities in much of the South China Sea, in another move that triggered angry protests from Manila.
Additional reporting by Esther Teo in Beijing