China underlines claim to atoll after reports of ‘floating barrier’

A map showing the Scarborough Reef or Shoal. RFA Graphics.

BEIJING – Beijing has stressed its territorial claim to a disputed region in the South China Sea, following reports of the installation of a “floating barrier” in the area, reported dpa news agency.

Huangyan island, as the area otherwise known as Scarborough Reef is called by China, rightfully belongs to China’s territory, foreign office spokesman Wang Wenbin said in Beijing on Monday.

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A vessel from the Philippine Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Authority tried to enter the atoll last Friday without China’s permission, he said, and the Chinese authorities had intercepted the boat in accordance with the law.

The authorities in the Philippines said on Sunday that China had erected a “floating barrier” in the region. The chain of buoys, about 300 metres long, sited about 230 kilometres west of the Philippines’ north-west coast, prevents fishermen from navigating the area, which is within the Philippines’ economic zone, they said.

The barrier was discovered on Friday during a routine patrol in the south-eastern part of Scarborough Reef, which is also known as Bajo de Masinloc in the Philippines, it said.

The Philippine Coastguard and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources posted on X, formerly Twitter, that they “strongly condemn” the erection of the barrier, which “prevents Filipino fishing boats from entering the shoal, depriving them of their fishing and livelihood activities.”

Scarborough Reef is claimed by China and the Philippines. It was the focus of a military incident between the two countries in 2012, after which Beijing summarily occupied the reef. Although a court ruled in 2016 that China’s historical rights to the area were invalid, Beijing does not recognise the ruling.- Bernama