US says does not want China use navy to intimidate fishing vessels

china coast guard
Filipino soldiers gesture at a Chinese Coast Guard vessel on the disputed Second Thomas Shoal, part of the Spratly Islands, in the South China Sea

March 3, 2016 – The United States does not want China to use its navy to intimidate fishing vessels from other countries in a disputed area of the South China Sea, the State Department said on Wednesday.

Mark Toner
Mark Toner

“We are aware of these press reports regarding the Chinese vessels operating near Jackson Atoll in the contested areas of the South China Sea,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner said at a news briefing. “We don’t want them using … their navy to intimidate other fishing vessels in that region.”

Philippine officials said on Wednesday China had sent as many as seven ships to Quirino Atoll, also known as Jackson Atoll, in recent weeks, preventing Filipino fishermen from accessing traditional fishing grounds.

Mayor Eugenio Bito-onon Jr

Eugenio Bito-onon Jr, the mayor of the island municipality of Kalayaan in Palawan province, told Rueters: “This is very alarming, Quirino is on our path when we travel from Palawan to Pagasa. It is halfway and we normally stop there to rest.”

“I feel something different. The Chinese are trying to choke us by putting an imaginary checkpoint there. It is a clear violation of our right to travel, impeding freedom of navigation,” Bito-onon said.

Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei
Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei

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In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said China’s Ministry of Transport had sent vessels to tow a grounded foreign ship and they had since left the surrounding waters.

“To guarantee safety of navigation and of work conditions, China urged fishing vessels near the site to leave,” Hong said, adding that China had indisputable sovereignty over the atoll.

Mary Greeley News