Beijing warned Manila Tuesday against boarding mainland Chinese fishing boats in a disputed outcrop of the South China Sea, but pledged to investigate alleged illegal fishing practices by its fleet.
“The Philippine side had no right to board the Chinese fishing boats in the area or take any measures against the fishermen,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhu Bangzao was quoted as saying by the China Daily.
The Philippine navy last week boarded 10 mainland Chinese fishing boats near Huangyan Island, also known as Scarborough Reef, the paper said. On Monday, Philippine national security adviser Roilo Golez filed a diplomatic protest with Beijing over a growing number of Chinese fishing vessels that have strayed into the area.
Mainland Chinese fleets with about 13 to 18 ships were regularly seen poaching in the area, Golez said.
Although no arrests were made last week, the Philippine navy said the mainland’s vessels were only allowed to leave after handing over boxes of illegal fishing equipment like electrical blasting caps, time fuses, dynamite sticks, cyanide and several endangered marine species.
Using cyanide and dynamite to fish has been blamed for indiscriminately killing non-targeted fish species and destroying coral reefs.
Zhu maintained that the Chinese fishing boats were engaging in “proper and normal” fishing and that the Beijing prohibits fishing harmful to the marine environment and marine life.
“The Chinese government will investigate all illegal fishing activities and will impose due punishments in accordance with the law,” Zhu said.
Scarborough Reef lies about 250 kilometers west of the main Philippine island of Luzon and some 900 kilometers southeast of Hong Kong.
It is northeast of the Spratly archipelago, which is also claimed by both countries as well as Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam.
Philippine armed forces chief General Diomedio Vilanueva said the navy had been placed on high alert to prevent similar incursions and that, since January this year, 26 mainland Chinese vessels had strayed into the area.