BEIJING – Philippine fishermen threw fire bombs at Chinese law enforcement vessels in the South China Sea, China’s Foreign Ministry said Tuesday, after Philippine media said fishermen had been struck by bottles hurled from Chinese coast guard ships.
China and the Philippines have long exchanged accusations about each other’s behavior in the disputed South China Sea.
China claims most of the energy-rich waters through which about $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. Neighbors Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims.
Philippine media said this week that a group of fishermen had been chased away from Scarborough Shoal by Chinese coast guardsmen who hurled bottles at them. The fishermen then responded with rocks, the reports said.
Asked about the incident, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Scarborough Shoal — known by Beijing as Huangyan Island — was Chinese territory that Philippine fishermen had been fishing around illegally.
“Chinese official ships advised the illegally stationed Philippine trawlers to leave, in accordance with the law, but they refused to obey,” she told a daily news briefing.
“Certain people on the ships even waved around machetes and flung fire bombs, carrying out deliberate provocation, attacking the Chinese law enforcers and official boat, confronting China’s law enforcement and seriously threatening the safety and order of the waters around Huangyan Island,” Hua said.
China had strengthened its “management” around the shoal, she added, without elaborating.
A spokesman for the Philippines Foreign Ministry said: “We can’t comment at this time as we are still awaiting the official report from our concerned agencies on the incident.”