MANILA, The Philippines: The Philippines remains steadfast in its resolve not to yield to Chinese efforts to obstruct its fishermen from accessing a contested shoal in the South China Sea.
This determination was reiterated even as Beijing cautioned the Southeast Asian nation against "provoking and causing trouble" in the disputed area.
This statement follows the Philippines' recent removal of a 300-meter barrier deployed by China at the shoal, a highly contentious maritime feature in Asia.
The Philippines executed this operation using coastguard personnel disguised as fishermen on a small boat, characterizing it as a "special operation." This move has the potential to further strain already deteriorating relations between the two countries.
"They might still return the floating barrier once again; they might still do shadowing and dangerous maneuvers once again," Philippine coastguard spokesperson Commodore Jay Tarriela told CNN Philippines.
Tarriela emphasized the Philippines' commitment to maintaining its presence in the area, highlighting that the Filipino people would not back down.
The Scarborough Shoal, located about 200 km off the Philippines within its exclusive economic zone (EEZ), has been a source of territorial disputes spanning several decades. China, which refers to the rocky outcrop as Huangyan Island, accuses the Philippines of intruding into what it considers indisputably Chinese waters. China issued a warning to Manila, urging it to avoid provocations.
"China firmly upholds the sovereignty and maritime rights of Huangyan Island, and we advise the Philippines side not to provoke and cause trouble," foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin told a regular press briefing.
Tensions have escalated this year due to actions taken by the new Philippine President, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., to strengthen ties with the United States. This includes granting the U.S. military expanded access to Philippine bases, a move criticized by China as provocative. Incidents involving vessels from both countries have occurred within the Philippine EEZ, with accusations of dangerous and aggressive behavior.
The control of the Scarborough Shoal holds significant sensitivity for Beijing, and it has maintained a continuous presence of coastguard ships and fishing vessels there for the past decade.
This shoal was at the center of a case brought by the Philippines to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague, which ruled in 2016 that China's territorial claims in most of the South China Sea had no legal basis under international law. China, however, does not recognize this ruling.