Manila presses case over fishing grounds

Manila presses case over fishing grounds
Boats like this one, though capable, have been avoiding Scarborough shoal, a teeming fishing ground that China has blockaded since 2012, following skirmishes with the Chinese Coast Guard that usually find the fishermen at the losing end.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

The Philippines pressed its claims over fishing grounds in parts of the disputed South China Sea, as it argued its case against China for a second day before a United Nations court.

In a bulletin sent from the Hague in the Netherlands, President Benigno Aquino's spokesman, Ms Abigail Valte, said British law professor Alan Boyle presented on Wednesday to the five-judge Permanent Court of Arbitration the Philippines' rights to natural resources inside its 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone.

Manila is asking the court to declare China's "nine-dash line" claim to almost the whole of the South China Sea, based on historical records and maps, as being contrary to international laws. The line encompasses territories claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.

The Philippines contends that the demarcation is invalid, as it stretches as far as 1,611km from the nearest Chinese land mass.

Manila is also unhappy that the Chinese activities in the South China Sea have affected the livelihood of Filipinos.

Last month, Manila said China's reclamation work in the disputed waters had destroyed about 1.2 sq km of coral reef, causing US$100 million (S$135 million) in annual estimated losses for coastal nations.

The damage was "irreversible and widespread", it said.

China has been dredging sand and coral for more than a year to transform seven reefs in the Spratly archipelago into islands, with two large enough to hold 3km-long runways. In all, it has reclaimed more than 800ha of land.

Rebuffing the Philippines, China said its reclamation work "emphasises environmental protection".

China's State Oceanic Administration said a "new type" of dredging technique was being used. "The impact on coral reef ecology is localised, temporary, controllable and restorable," it said.

The Philippines has also accused China of muscling Filipino fishermen out of rich fishing grounds around Scarborough Shoal, an atoll in the South China Sea that lies 198km west of Luzon island.

Meanwhile, a new survey shows that three in five Filipinos distrust China, and that half of the population is closely following news about the territorial disputes.

This article was first published on July 10, 2015.
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