South China sea: Beijing expansion threat leaves Philippines’ fishermen in fear of war

South China Sea: Expert on China's standoff with Philippines

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The presence of hundreds of Chinese vessels inside the Philippines’ 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) has been the latest source of tensions between the two countries in the South China Sea, through which $3 trillion (£2.1 trillion) worth of goods pass every year. The Philippines said the encroaching vessels were manned by militia, while Beijing counterargued they were fishing boats sheltering from bad weather. Speaking to ABC News, Filipino fisherman Federico Josol spoke of his experience with Chinese ships chasing down boats.

He said: “There were two helicopters and four Chinese coastguards and a big brown-coloured ship that looks like it is used for war.”

“The two sides had friendly and candid exchanges on the general situation and specific issues of concern in the South China Sea,” under a bilateral consultation mechanism convened in 2016 to ease tensions in the strategic waterway, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said in a statement.

“There was mutual recognition of the importance of dialogue in easing tensions and understanding each country’s position and intentions in the area,” the DFA said.

Earlier this month, Philippines Foreign Minister Teodoro Locsin likened China to “an ugly oaf” for its behaviour in the waterway.

“China, my friend, how politely can I put it? Let me see, GET THE **** OUT,” Locsin tweeted on his personal account.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who prefers to not provoke Beijing and wants to tap it for loans and investment, barred his ministers from talking about the South China Sea situation in public after the outburst.

Also discussed during Friday’s dialogue was the row over the June 2019 sinking of a Philippine fishing boat by a Chinese fishing vessel that abandoned the Filipino fishermen in the South China Sea.

The Philippine justice ministry will seek compensation for the victims, the DFA said.

South China Sea: US ‘creating risks’ says China

Despite recent tensions, ties between the Philippines and China have improved under Duterte, who described the 2016 arbitration ruling on the South China Sea that went in the Philippines’ favour as just a “piece of paper” he could throw in the trash.

But the Philippines reiterated its call on Beijing to respect international law, including the arbitral ruling during the talks, the DFA said.

It comes as the first operational deployment of Britain’s flagship aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth to Asia will show countries such as China that Britain believes in the international law of the sea, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Friday.

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Mr Johnson said the Carrier Strike Group, which will interact with more than 40 nations on the deployment through the Mediterranean, Indian Ocean and the South China Sea to Japan, would project Britain’s values as well as its military capabilities.

He told broadcasters: “One of the things we’ll be doing clearly is showing to our friends in China that we believe in the international law of the sea, and in a confident but not a confrontational way, we will be vindicating that point.

“We don’t want to antagonise anybody.

“But we do think that the United Kingdom plays a very important role, with friends and partners, the Americans, the Dutch, the Australians, the Indians many, many others, in upholding the rule of law, the international rules-based system on which we all depend.”

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