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Philippines to remove any barrier installed by China in disputed South China Sea

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MANILA: Philippine forces would dismantle any floating barrier the Chinese coast guard might install in the disputed South China Sea, a Philippine admiral said Wednesday after Manila infuriated China by removing one such obstruction in a shoal disputed.

Philippine authorities have strongly condemned last week’s installation of a 300-meter-long (980-foot) barrier by Chinese coast guard vessels at the entrance to the Scarborough Shoal lagoon, calling it a violation of international law. and the sovereignty of the country.

The barrier prevented a swarm of Filipino boats from entering the rich fishing ground, they said. The shoal lies within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, just west of the main island of Luzon, but has been occupied by China since 2012 as part of an attempt by Beijing to claim almost all of the South China Sea.

On Monday, the Philippine Coast Guard said it had complied with President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s order to launch a covert operation to remove the rope and net barrier held up by small buoys at the mouth of the shoal. China responded Tuesday by asking the Philippines “not to carry out provocations or seek trouble.”

“Huayang Island is an integral part of Chinese territory,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said at a news conference in Beijing on Wednesday, referring to Scarborough’s Chinese name.

“What the Philippines has done is nothing more than a prank to amuse people. China will continue to safeguard the territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests of Huangyan Island.

Philippine Vice Admiral Alberto Carlos, who heads the Western military command overseeing the South China Sea, told reporters he feared the Chinese coast guard would also install a similar floating barrier at the entrance to the Second Thomas Shoal, which is occupied. by a small contingent of the Philippine Navy on a long-stranded warship, but was surrounded by Chinese coast guard vessels.

“What concerns me is that if they also put a barrier in Ayungin…we also have to remove the barrier,” Carlos told reporters, using the Filipino name for Second Thomas Shoal. “Whatever they install, we will remove it. »

Under Marcos, who took office last year, the Philippines has stepped up efforts to combat China’s increasingly aggressive actions in one of the world’s most contested waters. The Philippine Coast Guard now often invites journalists to join its territorial patrols in an effort, she says, to expose China’s intimidation on the busy waterway.

Besides China and the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan are also involved in the long-simmering territorial disputes in the South China Sea. These regions have long been seen as a potential flashpoint in Asia and a delicate fault line in the rivalry between the United States and China in the region.

Washington does not claim the sea passage, a major global trade route, but U.S. Navy ships and fighter jets have conducted patrols for decades to challenge China’s broad claims and promote freedom of navigation and overflight. China has asked the United States to stop interfering in what it sees as a purely Asian dispute.

Carlos said the Philippine military would comply with Marcos’ order to ensure that the abandoned and ruined navy ship, which Philippine forces are using as a territorial outpost at Second Thomas Shoal, “should remain there, sufficiently strong enough to be able to display the Philippine flag.

China asked the Philippines to tow the ship out of the shoal. But Marcos and the Philippine military have insisted that the offshore region is within their country’s exclusive economic zone.

Chinese coast guard vessels have repeatedly attempted to block Philippine supply ships, leading to near-collisions.

Washington has said it is obligated to defend the Philippines, its oldest ally in Asia, if Philippine forces, ships and aircraft are attacked, including in the South China Sea.

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