China asks Philippines, Vietnam to release its fishing boats

China has demanded the Philippines release a Chinese fishing boat and its crew seized in the disputed South China Sea on Wednesday, the latest flare-up in the oil and gas-rich waters that are claimed wholly or in part by six nations.

Tensions are also brewing in another part of the sea, where China has warned Vietnam not to disturb activities of Chinese companies operating near disputed islands. Earlier, Hanoi condemned the movement of a giant Chinese oil rig into what it said was its territorial waters.

Dozens of patrol boats and other navy and coastguard vessels from both countries are in the area, Vietnamese officials say. Some collisions have taken place, said a navy official, but he did not give details and they appeared to be minor.

‘No shots have been fired yet,’ said the official, who could not be identified because he was not authorized to speak to media. ‘Vietnam won’t fire unless China fires first.’

Chief Superintendent Noel Vargas of the Philippine National Police Maritime Group said a maritime police patrol apprehended a Chinese fishing boat around 7 a.m. on Tuesday off Half Moon Shoal in the Spratly Islands on the South China Sea.

The boat has 11 crew and police found about 350 turtles in the vessel, some of which were already dead, a police report said, adding that a Philippine boat with crew was also seized, and found to have 70 turtles on board. Several species of sea turtles are protected under Philippine law. Maritime police are now towing the boats to Puerto Princesa town on the island of Palawan where appropriate charges will be filed against them, Vargas said.

China, which claims almost the entire South China Sea, rejecting rival claims from Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei, said the Philippines had to release the boat and the fishermen.

‘China’s Foreign Ministry and China’s ambassador to the Philippines have made representations to the Philippines side, demanding that it provide a rational explanation and immediately release the people and the vessel’, ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a daily news briefing.

‘We once again warn the Philippines not to take any provocative actions,’ she said, adding that China had ‘indisputable sovereignty’ over the Spratly Islands. 

There are frequent tensions in the South China Sea between China and the other claimant nations, particularly Vietnam and the Philippines, both of which say Beijing has harassed their ships in the waters there.
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