China Wednesday urged the immediate release of a Chinese fishing boat, which was seized by the Philippines within Chinese territorial waters, and warned Manila not to make any further provocation.
Tanmen Fishery Association in Qionghai, South China's Hainan Province, told the Global Times Wednesday it was informed by the local fishery authority that Qiongqionghai 09063 with 11 crew aboard has been towed to the island of Palawan by Filipino law enforcement officers.
According to the association, Qiongqionghai 09063 and another fishing boat Qiongqionghai 03168 were intercepted by an unidentified armed vessel at around 10 am Tuesday, while fishing in the waters of Half Moon Shoal at the Nansha Islands in the South China Sea.
Armed men forced onto Qiongqionghai 09063 and fired four or five shots in the air. They then took control of the boat, reported the Xinhua News Agency.
The 11 fishermen, aged between 19 and 64, are all villagers from Tanmen.
Hua Chunying, China's foreign ministry spokeswoman, told a regular press conference that China has indisputable sovereign rights over the Nansha Islands and its surrounding waters, and a Chinese coast guard vessel has arrived at the area.
"China's foreign ministry and the Chinese Embassy in the Philippines have already lodged representations with the Philippine side, demanding a rational explanation and the immediate release of the fishermen and boat," Hua said.
The Filipino foreign ministry defended the arrest as a move to enforce maritime law and "uphold sovereign rights," reported Reuters.
Ding Zhile, head of Tanmen Fishery Association, told the Global Times on Wednesday that it is the first seizure of a Chinese fishing boat by the Philippines since a Beijing-Manila standoff over Huangyan Island in April 2012.
According to Ding, since 2000, there have been 117 incidents of unreasonable chasing, seizure, robbery and armed attacks against fishing boats from Tanmen by neighboring countries. Five fishermen were shot dead, while another 714 were attacked or detained.
Since the standoff, China has reinforced its protection of fishing boats by carrying out regular patrols in the waters of the Nansha Islands, and no such incident has happened until the current case, Ding said.
Wu Shicun, president of the National Institute for South China Sea Studies, told the Global Times that the seizure of the Chinese boat is in line with Manila's recent moves to provoke Beijing and internationalize the disputes over the South China Sea.
"After the signing of a 10-year defense cooperation deal with Washington and US President Barack Obama's backing of its resort to international arbitration, Manila was buoyed up in taking on Beijing," Wu said.
According to Ding, local fishing boats frequently run into Filipino ships at Half Moon Shoal, where pirates also appear.
"Though we always see Chinese law enforcement vessels, it is impossible for them to cover the whole of the Nansha Islands, which include more than 100 islets and reefs," he said, calling on the government to further reinforce protection of fishermen.
The Nansha Islands cover a sea area of around 820,000 square kilometers, about three times the size of New Zealand.
Wu acknowledged there is still a gap between China's strength in its maritime law enforcement and the demands of fishery protection.
As the Nansha Islands are far from the coastline, only vessels above 1,000 tons that have high continuous voyage capability are suitable to carry out missions there.
However, Wu said the maritime law enforcement authority in the South China Sea only has around 10 such vessels.
In order to address the shortfall, China has been building new patrol ships.
Liu Cigui, head of the State Oceanic Administration, told a national maritime work conference in January that 20 patrol vessels are under construction.
China Ocean News also reported January that a 5,000-ton class patrol ship will be deployed to the waters around Sansha, China's newest city, set up to consolidate the country's claim over the South China Sea.
A 10,000-ton class marine surveillance vessel, the largest of its kind in the world, is also reportedly under construction.
In addition to putting more resources into maritime surveillance, Wu also noted that fishermen should work in a "more coordinated and collective" manner so as to stave off threats posed by foreign countries.