About 100 Filipino activists and fishermen traveled in wooden boats to the disputed coast, which is protected by China.

MANILA: About 100 Filipino activists and fishermen, along with journalists, visited a disputed shore in the South China Sea on Wednesday, where Beijing’s coast guard and suspected militant vessels used powerful water cannons to repel what they perceived as intruders.

The Philippine Coast Guard deployed three patrol vessels and a light aircraft to remotely monitor the activists and fishermen who set off from western Zambales province to assert Manila’s sovereignty over Scarborough Shoal and its maritime borders. The Navy sent a ship to monitor the participants.

About 100 small wooden fishing boats with bamboo rafts initially joined the expedition to help distribute food packages and fuel to fishermen, and lay a dozen regional buoys about 20 nautical miles (37 kilometers) off the coast before returning to Zambales, Emman Hisan said. , one of the organizers.

Four large wooden boats with more than 100 activists, including Filipino and two foreign Roman Catholic priests, fishermen and journalists, headed to the shoal and were expected to reach its outer sea early Thursday, Hisan said.

Activists from the non-governmental coalition Atin Ito – Tagalog for This is Ours – said they were trying to avoid conflict but were prepared for any contingencies.

„Our mission is peace based on international law and aimed at asserting our sovereign rights,” said Rafaela David, a leading organizer. „We will march with determination, not provocation, to civilize the region and protect our territorial integrity.”

In December, David’s crew, along with fishermen’s boats, attempted to reach another disputed shore, but cut the trip short after being tailed by a Chinese vessel.

After a tense standoff with Philippine government vessels in 2012, China effectively took control of Scarborough Shoal, a triangular-shaped atoll.

Angered by China’s actions, the Philippine government took the dispute to international arbitration in 2013, and three years later a tribunal in The Hague ruled that China’s extensive claims based on history in the busy waterway were invalid under the 1982 UN Convention. Law of the Sea.

According to this ruling, Scarborough Shoal was declared a traditional fishing area for Chinese, Filipino and Vietnamese fishermen. In the past, fishermen anchored on the shore during stormy weather to avoid huge waves in the deep sea.

China refused to participate in the arbitration, rejected the decision and continues to violate it.

Two weeks ago, the Chinese Coast Guard and suspected militant vessels used water cannons on Philippine Coast Guard and fishing vessels patrolling the Scarborough Shoal, damaging both vessels.

The Philippines has condemned the Chinese Coast Guard’s move on the shoal, which lies in the Southeast Asian nation’s internationally recognized exclusive economic zone. The Chinese Coast Guard said it took „necessary action” because the Philippine ships „violated China’s sovereignty”.

Besides the Philippines and China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan are also involved in regional conflicts.

Chinese coast guard ships have entered waters near Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia in the past, sparking tensions and protests, but Southeast Asian countries with significant economic ties to China have not aggressively criticized Beijing’s increasingly assertive actions.

The Philippines has released videos of its territorial confrontations with China and invited journalists to witness the hostilities on the high seas in a strategy to garner international support, sparking a war of words with Beijing.

The increasing frequency of clashes between the Philippines and China has resulted in minor skirmishes in recent months, injured Philippine navy personnel and damaged supply boats. That has fueled fears that regional disputes between the Philippines’ long-time treaty ally China and the United States could degenerate into armed conflict.

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