MANILA (Reuters) -The Philippines’ coast guard (PCG) on Sunday accused China of “dangerous and blocking” manoeuvres while its vessel patrolled near Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea this month.
Manila’s coast guard said in a statement that on a nine-day patrol near the shoal by its 97-metre (318-foot) vessel BRP Teresa Magbanua, four Chinese coast guard (CCG) vessels had shadowed the boat more than 40 times.
Four Chinese maritime militia vessels were also present near the shoal, the PCG said.
Located within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ), Scarborough shoal is also claimed by China, making it one of Asia’s most contested maritime features and a flashpoint for flare-ups.
The PCG said its vessel was in the area to protect Filipino fishermen “from further harassment” in their traditional fishing ground.
“The CCG vessels performed dangerous and blocking manoeuvres at sea against BRP Teresa Magbanua four times, with the CCG vessels crossing the bow of the PCG vessel twice,” it said, adding that the Chinese vessels had “recklessly” disregarded international rules on preventing collisions at sea.
China claims almost the entire South China Sea, a conduit for more than $3 trillion in annual ship commerce. Its territorial claims overlap with the EEZs of the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei.
The Chinese foreign ministry said on Sunday that the Scarborough Shoal is Beijing’s sovereign territory and that Chinese coastguard activities in the area were legal.
“China requires the Philippines to respect China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests and stop maritime infringement activities. China will continue to firmly safeguard its territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests in accordance with the law,” it said in response to a request from Reuters for comment.
In 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague said China’s claims had no legal basis, a decision Beijing has rejected.
(Reporting by Mikhail Flores and Andrew Hayley; Editing by Sonali Paul)