The Philippines has “strongly condemned” China after its coastguard chased off Filipino fishing boats.
The Chinese vessel then installed a ‘floating barrier’ which cut off Filipinos from entering and fishing in the area.
The floating barrier was set up around the Scarborough Shoal, a long-disputed part of the South China Sea.
Commodore Jay Tarriela, a Filipino coast guard spokesperson, said the barrier blocking fishermen from the shoal was “depriving them of their fishing and livelihood activities”.
Philippine coastguard and fisheries bureau personnel discovered the barrier, estimated at 300 metres long, on a routine patrol on Friday near the shoal.
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‘They already chased me earlier today – I just laughed at them’
When the Chinese coastguard boats spotted the Filipino patrol, they issued 15 radio challenges and accused the Philippine ship and fishermen of violating international and Chinese laws.
The Chinese vessels moved away “upon realising the presence of media personnel onboard the Filipino vessel”, according to Commodore Tarriela.
One of the Filipino fishermen, Arnel Satam, discussed being chased away by the Chinese coast guard: “I want to fish in there. I do this thing often. They already chased me earlier today. I just laughed at them.”
China’s embassy in Manila did not immediately reply to a request for comment, according to Reuters news agency.
Beijing seized the Scarborough Shoal in 2012 and forced Filipino fishermen to travel further for smaller catches.
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While Beijing allowed fishermen to return to the shoal when relations between the countries improved, tensions have recently escalated.
The South China Sea is a rich fishing ground that is believed to hold vast oil and gas reserves.
More than half of the world’s fishing vessels operate in this area.
It has been a flashpoint between China and a number of countries in recent years.
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China claims 90 percent of the South China Sea, overlapping with the exclusive economic zones of Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia and the Philippines.
China has sought to solidify its claims in the South China Sea with island-building and naval patrols.
The area has also been a source of tension between China and the US.
The US occasionally sends military ships and planes near disputed islands in what it calls “freedom of navigation” operations.
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