BEIJING – China demanded today that the Philippines return fishing boats that it said were seized in disputed waters in the South China Sea after a collision between a Philippine navy ship and a Chinese trawler.
“Chinese fisherman are completely justified at working in an area which has been a traditional fishing ground for generations. The actions taken by the Philippines have harmed the legitimate rights of Chinese fishermen,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said at a regular news briefing.
“We demand the Philippines unconditionally return the small boats as soon as possible and properly handle the relevant issues,” she added, repeating that China had “indisputable sovereignty” of the Spratly Islands and its seas.
China, Taiwan and four South-east Asian states, including the Philippines, have conflicting claims over the Spratly Islands and other islets in the South China Sea, an area believed to have rich deposits of oil and gas. It is also a rich fishing ground.
The Philippines said yesterday that a Chinese fishing vessel had intruded into its territorial waters and a Philippine navy ship “accidentally” collided with a dinghy the Chinese boat was towing.
A Philippine navy boat was on patrol in the Reed Bank when it spotted a Chinese fishing vessel towing 35 smaller boats. When it tried to challenged the fishing vessel, it hit one of the dinghies.
Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said the government would not apologise to China.
Claimants to the sea have been trying to cool tension after a series of disputes this year, including when Chinese patrol boats threatened to ram a Philippine-contracted survey ship in the Reed Bank in March.
China, which says it has indisputable sovereignty over the seas to its south and islands within, has rejected international arbitration of the conflicting claims, and has proposed joint development of resources.