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Chinese coastguard blocks Philippine fishermen from approaching disputed shoal

'This is Chinese Coastguard performing law enforcement duties here. you should leave here immediately,' said one of the Chinese coastguard personnel. Photograph: (Getty)

Reuters Manila, Philippines Jul 15, 2016, 12.10 PM (IST)
A Chinese coastguard boat stopped a group of Philippine fishermen from approaching a disputed shoal on Thursday despite an arbitration ruling granting the Philippines the right to fish in its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

An international court in The Hague ruled on Tuesday that China has no historic title over the large swathes of the South China Sea and that it has breached the sovereign rights of the Philippines with its actions there.

A news team from local network ABS-CBN joined a group of fishermen as they travelled to Scarborough Shoal, which lies within the Philippines' Exclusive Economic Zone and was seized by China in 2012.

A Chinese coastguard patrol ship was spotted while they were approaching the mouth of the shoal and was soon approached by its personnel.

"This is Chinese Coastguard performing law enforcement duties here. you should leave here immediately," said one of the Chinese coastguard personnel.

The fishermen decided to return and fish outside the shoal, ABS-CBN reported.

The coastal town of Masinloc, which faces the South China Sea, has advised its fishermen not to fish in Scarborough Shoal until disputes are completely settled with China.

In Manila, the Philippines' top lawyer told a forum on today that the decision invalidating China's claims was a "crowning glory" that renews faith in international law.

"It confirms that no one state can contain virtually an entire sea. The award is a historic win, not only for the Philippines, but for the community because it renews humanity's faith in a rules based global order," Solicitor General Jose Calida said, the strongest comment a Philippine official has made since the arbitration award.

"The award opens a horizon of possibilities for all stake holders. The award is a crowning glory of international law. It provides for the norms to be followed, for the peaceful and orderly conduct of world affairs," he added.

Manila has so far been keen not to rock the boat in the hope of starting dialogue towards Beijing allowing it to exercise what the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled were its sovereign maritime rights.

The ruling is significant as it is the first time that a legal challenge has been brought in the dispute, which covers some of the world's most promising oil and gas fields and vital fishing grounds.

The court has no power of enforcement, but a victory for the Philippines could spur Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei to file similar cases.

China has refused to recognise Tuesday's ruling and did not take part in its proceedings. It has reacted angrily to calls by Western countries for the decision to be adhered to.

China claims most of the energy-rich waters through which about $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. Neighbours Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims.

(Reuters)
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