China and the Philippines Both Impose Fishing Bans

Tensions between China and the Philippines are continuing to escalate over the Scarborough Shoal, a series of tiny islands in the South China Sea that is home to numerous minerals and oil reserves. The New York Times provides some background on the dispute:

The recent bout of trouble began in April, when Philippine Navy personnel boarded Chinese fishing vessels at Scarborough Shoal, an area about 800 kilometers, or 500 miles, south of China and over 160 kilometers west of the Philippines that is claimed by both countries.The Philippines claimed to have found large quantities of illegal coral and fish on the vessels, and said Chinese surveillance ships had intervened to prevent the fishermen’s arrest, my colleague Jane Perlez reported.

Relations between China and the Philippines have deteriorated sharply, with a China Daily article, carried by the People’s Daily Web site, warning Manila today “not to escalate tension.” That follows weeks of growing calls by nationalist Chinese netizens to “teach the Philippines a lesson” and statements in state-run Chinese media that China would consider all options to resolve the dispute.

After weeks of tension in the area, which China calls Huangyan Island and the Philippines calls the Panatag Shoal (internationally, it’s generally known as the Scarborough Shoal; see this report from the International Crisis Group), China announced this week that it would begin an annual, 10-week fishing ban in waters including the region, but stressed that the ban was not connected to the dispute.

In response to China’s fishing ban, the Philippines announced a ban of its own, the Wall Street Journal reports:

The Philippines responded by announcing plans for its own fishing ban. Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario Monday said President Benigno Aquino III is also keen to replenish fishing stocks.

“We do not recognize China’s fishing ban inasmuch as portions of the ban encompass our Exclusive Economic Zone,” Mr. del Rosario said in a statement, referring to the 200-nautical-mile zone granted to the Philippines under the United Nations’ Convention on the Law of the Sea. “However, the president has decided that in view of the accelerated depletion of our marine resources, it would be advisable for us to issue our own fishing ban for a period of time to replenish our fish stock.” Scarborough Shoal sits 118 nautical miles (220 kilometers) off the country’s northwest coast.

The Philippines has also renewed military ties with the U.S. in the wake of the controversy. From the AP:

With Washington turning its attention more to the Asia-Pacific region, the U.S. and the Philippines last week held the first joint meeting of their top diplomats and defense chiefs. The U.S. increased military aid and resolved to help its ally on maritime security.

The steps came with the Philippines locked in a standoff with China over competing territorial claims in the South China Sea that has stoked passions on both sides. The U.S. is a walking a delicate diplomatic line. It doesn’t want the dispute to escalate, but it is showing where its strategic interests lie.

May 15, 2012 3:38 PM
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