In yet another disagreement between China and its neighbors over the disputed South China Sea, the Philippines last week claimed that one of its naval patrols had discovered eight Chinese fishing vessels loaded with illegal catch in an area it considers to be within its own exclusive economic zone. When the Philippine patrol refused to allow the fishing boats to leave the area without discharging their catch, China speeded three maritime survey ships to the area. Since then, the two countries have engaged in a standoff that continues, even though the Philippine warship allowed the fishermen to leave the area over the weekend, still in possession of their illegal catch. China insists that its fishing fleet was unfairly harassed, as Beijing maintains it has sovereign rights over the entire South China Sea.
“The standoff highlights the lack of cooperation between and among the littoral states to properly manage fishing stocks,” said Ian Storey, senior fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies on Friday. “As all of the claimants have hardened their positions concerning their territorial and maritime boundary claims, there is unlikely to be any progress on preserving fisheries in the South China Sea any time soon.”
Maritime policy analyst Mark J. Valencia explained that incidents such as these occur “because neither side can back down without implying that their claims are not as strong.”