The Philippine military has spotted at least 32 Chinese vessels in the waters around the disputed Scarborough Shoal in the West Philippine Sea, the Philippine Daily Inquirer reports.
According to the article, the vessels – which had increased in number from last week’s 14 – include the Fisheries Law Enforcement Command (FLEC) 310, two Chinese surveillance ships and a number of utility and fishing boats.
The Philippines, meanwhile, posted a Coast Guard ship and a Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources vessel in the disputed territory. Filipino fishing boats were also reported to have been spotted in the area last week.
In an article, however, the Philippine Star reported that Chinese ships have barred Filipino fishermen from entering the shoal known for its rich maritime resources.
“Our fishermen who returned to the area were barred from entering the lagoon to fish by Chinese maritime vessels using their floodlights to drive them away,” Masinloc, Zambales Mayor Desiree Edora said.
Her secretary, RJ Bautista, added that the Filipinos have no choice but to fish outside the lagoon.
“We were told they were prevented by the (Chinese) Navy or Coast Guard. Our fishermen are okay with Chinese fishermen. The problem is they have gunboats there,” Bautista was quoted in the Inquirer report.
“Those who want to go in are shooed away. Since they cannot understand each other, our fishermen are afraid,” headded.
China prepared for “any escalation”
On Tuesday, the Chinese government said that they are prepared to respond to any escalation stemming from the ongoing naval standoff between Chinese and Filipino forces.
“The Chinese side has also made all preparations to respond to any escalation of the situation by the Philippine side,” China’s Vice Foreign Minister Fu Ying was quoted in a China Daily report.
Fu met with Philippine Charge D’affaires Alex Chua last Monday, asking the Philippines to remain calm and refrain from taking actions that would complicate the month-long standoff.
“It is hoped that the Philippine side will not misjudge the situation and not escalate tensions without considering the consequences,” she said, stressing that the Scarborough Shoal is part of the Chinese territory as proven by historical documents that date back to the centuries-old Yuan dynasty.
In a statement, the Philippines – which claims the territory based on the 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone established by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) – said that it is working for a diplomatic resolution of the conflict.
“We are endeavoring to undertake a new diplomatic initiative which we hope will help the situation,” Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) spokesman Raul Hernandez said in a GMA News report.
Last week, DFA Secretary Albert Del Rosario confirmed that the Philippine government will proceed with its plan to seek for international mediation despite China’s earlier rejection of the proposal.
The standoff started last month when Chinese surveillance ships blocked the Philippine Navy’s BRP Gregorio Del Pilar from approaching Chinese fishermen accused of poaching marine biodiversity in the Philippine-claimed territory.