FILIPINO fishermen should ignore a Chinese rule requiring foreign fishing vessels to secure permission to enter much of the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said on Thursday.
The rule was passed in November by China’s southern island province of Hainan and took effect this year as tensions have escalated over overlapping claims to the waters between China, the Philippines, Vietnam and other nations.
Gazmin, visiting a military camp in the northern Philippines, said the Hainan law did not apply to Philippine territorial waters, some of which overlap with those of China which claims most of the South China Sea.
“We will not follow their rules in our own territory. Why do we need permission from another country that does not own our fishing grounds? These are ours,” he told reporters.
“We still have the capability to secure them (Filipino fishermen),” Gazmin said.
The Philippines has been locked in an increasingly tense standoff with China involving disputed reefs and islands in the West Philippine Sea.
Gazmin said the Philippine government will provide escort vessels to Filipino fishermen “if necessary”.
The Department of Foreign Affairs said the Hainan rule impinges on the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, an area extending 200 miles from its coast where it has sovereign rights to explore and exploit the natural resources under a United Nations convention ratified in 1982.
“China has been projecting herself as a superpower, but chooses to pick on small countries like ours that have puny military capability,” Gazmin said.
He cited the Hainan fishing rule as well as Beijing’s earlier unilateral declaration of an air defense zone over the East China Sea that includes areas disputed with Japan.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said he intends to discuss China’s new fisheries law with the leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).
Del Rosario is currently in Bagan, Myanmar for the Asean Foreign Ministers Meeting.
The Foreign Affairs chief said Beijing’s new regulation is a matter of international concern
because it has “serious implications on freedom of navigation, maritime security, respect for Unclos [United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea] and regional peace and stability.”
Unclos, a 1982 accord, delineates maritime borders and awarded each coastal nation with a 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone.
China and the Philippines are signatories to this accord.
“As an international issue, all concerned countries should be able to express their views in our common search for security and stability based on the rule of law,” del Rosario said.
Asean is composed of the Philippines, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar and Brunei Darussalam.
Asean has been urging China to negotiate with them for the early conclusion of a Code of Conduct, which is being seen as a way to reduce political tensions in the resource-rich region.
A pre-negotiation meeting has already been conducted between China and the Asean last year but so far, no concrete measures have been taken.
Instead, analysts have been pointing out how Beijing is isolating the Philippines as it forms links with other claimant countries such as Malaysia, Vietnam, Taiwan and Brunei.
In turn, the Philippines sought the help of its wartime ally, the United States, to establish a minimum credible defense posture as means to counter Beijing’s increasingly aggressive stance in the region.