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South China Sea: Filipino activists and fishermen sail a flotilla of 100 boats into disputed shoals

South China Sea: Filipino activists and fishermen sail a flotilla of 100 boats into disputed shoals

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Chinese Coast Guard vessels have tracked down a group of Filipino activists and fishermen who were sailing on wooden boats toward a disputed shoal in the South China Sea that Beijing heavily guards from what it sees as intruders.

The Philippine Coast Guard deployed three patrol ships and a light aircraft to remotely monitor the group of about 100 people who set off from the western province of Zambales to assert Manila’s sovereignty over Scarborough Shoal and its surrounding waters. Dozens of journalists joined the three-day trip.

The Navy also sent a ship to help monitor the participants.

Iman Hizon, one of the organisers, said the four wooden boats carrying the Filipinos were still far from the shallow waters when at least two Chinese Coast Guard ships started pursuing them at nightfall, adding that the participants remained in high spirits and would not turn back.

Some chanted “atin ito” – the group’s name, which means “this is ours” in Tagalog – repeatedly after they spotted Chinese coast guard vessels.

“The Atin Ito Battalion will continue on its path,” Hizon said.

“Our boats are practicing evasive maneuvers while the Philippine Coast Guard continues to maintain a close distance from the convoy to thwart any further attempt by Chinese Coast Guard vessels,” Hizon said.

Organizers said the convoy is expected to arrive in the shallow water area on Thursday morning, adding that they will seek to avoid confrontations but are prepared for any emergency. The group plans to place symbolic territorial buoys and provide food and fuel to Filipino fishermen on the high seas near the shallow waters.

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“Our mission is peaceful, based on international law and aimed at asserting our sovereign rights,” said Rafaela David, one of the main organizers. He added: “We will sail with determination, not provocation, in order to give the region a civilian character and preserve the integrity of our lands.”

In December, the group undertook an expedition to another disputed shoal, but broke off the trip after being tracked by a Chinese ship.

China effectively took control of Scarborough Shoal, a triangular atoll with a huge fishing lagoon surrounded by mostly submerged coral outcrops, by surrounding it with coast guard vessels after a tense 2012 standoff with Philippine government vessels.

Angered by China’s actions, the Philippine government referred territorial disputes to international arbitration in 2013 and largely won, with a tribunal in The Hague ruling three years later that China’s historically-based expansionist claims in the busy sea route were invalid under a 1982 U.N. convention. Concerning the law of the sea.

The ruling declared Scarborough Shoal a traditional fishing area for Chinese, Filipino and Vietnamese fishermen. In the past, fishermen anchored in shallow waters to avoid large waves on the high seas in stormy weather.

China refused to participate in the arbitration, rejected its results, and continues to challenge it.

Two weeks ago, Chinese Coast Guard and suspected militia vessels used water cannons on Philippine Coast Guard and fishing vessels patrolling Scarborough Shoal, damaging both vessels.

The Philippines condemned the actions of the Chinese Coast Guard regarding the shallow waters located in the Southeast Asian country’s internationally recognized exclusive economic zone. The Chinese Coast Guard said it took “necessary action” after the Philippine ships “violated China’s sovereignty.”

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In response to a question about Atin Ito’s convoy on Wednesday, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said: “If the Philippine side abuses China’s good faith and violates China’s territorial sovereignty and jurisdiction, China will protect its rights and take countermeasures in accordance with law and responsibilities.” The consequences that will arise from this will be borne entirely by the Philippine side.”

In addition to the Philippines and China, there were also Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan Participation in regional conflicts.

Chinese Coast Guard ships also ventured into waters near Vietnam and Malaysia Indonesia In the past, it has sparked tensions and protests, but Southeast Asian countries with significant economic ties with China have not been very critical of Beijing’s increasingly assertive actions.

The Philippines has released videos of its territorial confrontations with China and invited journalists to witness hostilities on the high seas In a strategy to gain international supportWhich sparked a war of words with Beijing.

The increasing frequency of skirmishes between the Philippines and China has led to minor collisions, injuries to Philippine Navy personnel, and damage to supply boats in recent months. It has raised concerns that regional disputes could deteriorate into conflict Armed conflict between China and the United Statesa long-time treaty ally of the Philippines.

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Follow AP’s Asia-Pacific coverage on https://apnews.com/hub/asia-pacific