Asia’s Game of Thrones is heating up, as a top general from the Philippine Armed Forces publicly accused Chinese authorities of firing on Filipino fishermen with a high-powered water cannon. The fishermen were boating near the Scarborough Shoal, a triangle-shaped reef that is claimed by both China and the Philippines. The NYT reports:
“The Chinese Coast Guard tried to drive away Filipino fishing vessels to the extent of using water cannon” near Scarborough Shoal on Jan. 27, Gen. Emmanuel Bautista, chief of staff of the Philippine Armed Forces, told foreign reporters at a forum in Manila, according to Agence France-Presse. He did not say if any injuries resulted from the incident. […]During a regular news briefing on Monday in Beijing, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, said that she did not know the details of the January incident and that Chinese ships “carry out normal official patrols in that area,” according to Reuters.
Tensions around the shoal have been high since April 2012, when the Philippine Navy attempted to arrest Chinese fishermen who were illegally collecting endangered fish. The arrests were foiled, however, when Chinese maritime surveillance ships intervened on behalf of the fishermen, blocking the Philippine Navy from accessing their vessels. China has since kept a constant military presence around the shoal.In recent months, both countries’ rhetoric has heated up. Earlier this month, the President Benigno Aquino compared China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea to Hitler’s aggression toward Germany’s neighbors preceding World War II. His remarks sparked livid criticism from Beijing, who called Aquino “ignorant” and “amateurish.” This incident could act further as potent firing power for hardline Filipino politicians, who want the country to take a tougher stance on China. If General Bautista’s claims are true, it signals that mere words are turning into sticks and stones.