The Philippines won in the maritime dispute with China over the West Philippine Sea based on The Hague ruling last July. However, the Chinese Supreme Court handed a decision on Tuesday, August 2, to imprison people caught illegally fishing in their waters for as long as a year, referring to waters within China’s exclusive economic zones.
According to the Permanent Court of Arbitration, none of the reefs and properties in the Spratlys Islands claimed by China are a part of their 200-mile exclusive economic zone.
China’s Supreme Court did not directly reference The Hague ruling over the South China Sea, but their judicial interpretation was said to be made in respect to the Chinese Law as well as the United Nations’ Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which the Philippines also used as basis to bring China to court.
“People’s courts will actively exercise jurisdiction over China’s territorial waters, support administrative departments to legally perform maritime management duties… and safeguard Chinese territorial sovereignty and maritime interests,” the Supreme Court said.
“Jurisdictional seas covered by the interpretation include contiguous zones, exclusive economic zones and continental shelves,” it added.
And the warming came.
“People who illegally enter Chinese territorial waters and refuse to leave after being driven out, or who re-enter after being driven away or being fined in the past year, will be considered to have committed “serious” criminal acts and could get up to a year in jail,” the Supreme Court was quoted in an InterAksyon report.
Japan’s warning of “unintended consequences”
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe approved the Defense White Paper that warned about “unintended consequences” of China ignoring international rules.
Japan does not have a territorial claim in the South China Sea, but it has grown concerned over the fact that its Chinese military bases in the said waters could only give Beijing more control over the region that serves as trade passage for as much as $5 trillion worth of goods, most of which reach and leave Japanese ports.
But Japan’s way of going against China did not involve using sailing warships. Instead, Japan started giving training and equipment to other claimants, such as the Philippines and Vietnam.
The Department of Foreign Affairs urged everyone to stay calm despite China’s announcement of imprisoning “illegal fishermen.”
“Pinapababa muna yung temperature kasi ngayon nga sariwang-sariwa pa ang decision. Sa side natin, maging mahinahon muna,” DFA spokesman Charles Jose told the media on Wednesday, August 3, at the second Manila Conference on the South China Seas hosted at the Manila Hotel.
“Alam naman natin na ino-occupy ng China ang Scarborough Shoal. Hintayin muna na mabigyan linaw kung paano makakabalik ang mga mangingisda natin sa Scarborough Shoal,” Jose added.
“Kaya nga tuloy ang panawagan natin sa lahat ng mga parties na tumulong na makapag-promote ng peace, security and stability,” he said.
Violation of international law
China would be making what is considered as a ‘worse violation’ of international law if its authorities will arrest and imprison Filipino fishermen for going to Scarborough Shoal, according to Professor Jay Batongbacal, director of the UP Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea.
Batongbacal said that The Hague ruling declared Scarborough Shoal as open water for fishing. If arrests are made, the Philippines can once again pursue another case against China before the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea (ITLOS). This law should permit the “prompt release of the fishermen and the vessels that are detained by states.”
He added that even the UNCLOS prevents states from detaining fishing vessels and fishermen.
‘Proceed with caution,’ says Malacañang
Presidential spokesperson Ernie Abella told the media that Filipino fishermen that those who still decide to go to Scarborough Shoal should do so with caution, GMA News Online reported.
“Makakatuloy sila but they also have to proceed with caution,” Abella said.
Abella said that The Hague ruling favoring the Philippines state that the 12 nautical mile off Scarborough Shoal is a fishing ground open to artisanal fishermen.
“Some guidelines are already in place like no commercial fishing within the Scarborough. That’s already in place and been implemented. Other issues, we take the diplomatic route,” he said.