South China Sea disputes

Whitsun Reef - awash in a sea of (legal) uncertainty

Self-restraint is needed as the question of whether the presence of Chinese fishing vessels is a 'violation of international law' is not as clear-cut as it appears

Chinese vessels, believed to be manned by Chinese maritime militia personnel, seen at Whitsun Reef in the South China Sea on March 27, in a photo taken by the Philippine Coast Guard.PHOTO: REUTERS

The Philippines and China have recently engaged in a tense exchange of words over the reported presence of more than 200 Chinese fishing vessels around Whitsun Reef, part of the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.

The Philippines has called their presence a violation of international law and a derogation of its sovereign rights in its exclusive economic zone (EEZ). China's response is that these are civilian fishing boats sheltering from storms in traditional fishing grounds of Chinese fishermen.

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