The territorial row in South China Sea has further escalated with an incident where Chinese coast guard vessels prevented members of a Filipino nationalist youth group from planting a Philippine flag on a rocky outcrop at the Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal last Sunday.
The incident between the Chinese and the Kalayaan Atin Ito movement (Freedom It’s Ours) took place as the country was commemorating Independence Day and just as foreign ministers from Southeast Asian countries and China were preparing for a meeting in Kunming to discuss territorial rows in the hotly contested South China Sea, The Philippine Star reported.
Beijing claims almost the entire South China Sea and the move by the Filipino nationalists comes as the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague prepares to deliver a ruling on a complex case brought by Manila that could dent China’s sweeping sovereignty claim.
“This is the truth. Chinese have invaded us. We have been saying this long before. They have invaded the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG), but they occupied first in 2012 Bajo de Masinloc (Panatag Shoal),” Joy Ban-eg, leader of the Kalayaan Atin group was quoted as saying.
In December last year, KAI also embarked on a voyage to Kalayaan Island Group to protest China’s occupation in the region, an action that triggered strong reactions from Beijing.
China has long been accused of invading into another country’s territory in the disputed region. Vietnam, which has fought China over competing South China Sea claims, has been most supportive of the Philippines' case.
Last month, a group of Chinese soldiers were also involved in an incident where they chased Vietnamese fishermen off Truong Sa (Spratly) Islands.
They were around 10 nautical miles from Chau Vien (Cuarteron) Reef in Truong Sa, a Chinese-flagged high-speed canoe chased after their boat.
According to the fishers, the canoe tried to approach the Vietnamese boat. Seven Chinese soldiers in military camouflage clothing then used horns and loudspeakers to chase the boat out of the area.
Chau Vien is a coral reef belonging to Vietnam's Truong Sa islands. It was occupied by Chinese forces on February 28, 1988. Since 2013, China has enhanced construction activities there, turning Chau Vien into an artificial island and the most important military base among the seven Vietnamese reefs they had occupied, for the East Sea, also known as the South China Sea.