MANILA, Philippines – China has accused the Philippines of committing a "premeditated provocative act" in detaining 11 Chinese fishermen caught poaching in Philippine waters, and warned of a "further" erosion of bilateral ties over the incident.
In a statement released to Philippine media, the Chinese Embassy in Manila alleged that Philippine authorities seized the Chinese fishing boat to deliberately elevate tensions in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
"The Chinese side warns the Philippine side not to take provocative actions, so as to avoid further damage to the bilateral relations. The Chinese side will keep following closely the development of this provocative act," the statement read.
It maintained China's claim over the area where the fishermen and other fishing boats were caught conducting illegal fishing activities on Tuesday, and said the arrest of its fishermen was a "severe" violation of its sovereignty and maritime rights.
"China has indisputable sovereignty over Nansha Islands and their adjacent waters, including the Banyue Reef. This provocative action is premeditated in an attempt to create tensions, and severely violates China's sovereignty and maritime rights," the Chinese Embassy said.
Hasa-hasa Shoal (Half Moon Shoal) is 60 nautical miles off the coast of Palawan, well within the Philippines' 200-nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone.
The Chinese Embassy reiterated China's call for immediate the release of the boat and its crew, and to "guarantee the crew's safety and their property."
It said it has lodged "solemn representations to the Philippine side on the latter's detention of 11 Chinese fishermen and seizure of their fishing boat."
The statement was issued a day after Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying issued a similar statement at a news conference in Beijing.
On Tuesday, a Philippine maritime patrol boat intercepted 2 fishing vessels near Hasa-hasa Shoal – a Chinese fishing boat with 11 crewmembers and a local boat with 5 Filipinos.
The boat was found with endangered wildlife – about 200 live turtles and 250 dead turtles.
Chief Superintendent Noel Vargas, Philippine National Maritime Group chief, said that there were more boats in the area, but the "slow" Philippine patrol boat only managed to intercept the 2 as these had mechanical problems and could not flee with the rest. (READ: More illegal fishers seized if not for 'slow' PH boat – PNP)
The boats, which PNP officials described as "on the verge of sinking," have been towed to the Palawan mainland. The Chinese and Filipino fishermen were brought to Puerto Princesa on Thursday for processing.
Malacañang has defended the arrest as done in the "performance of duty" of the PNP.
"The action taken by the Philippine National Police is in accordance with its duty to enforce environmental protection and wildlife conservation laws while upholding Philippines’ sovereign rights," Palace Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr said in a news briefing on Thursday, May 8.
Philippine officials have also assured China that "relevant authorities in Palawan will address this case in a just, humane and expeditious manner." – Rappler.com