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These images from the Philippine Coast Guard are presumed proof of a new Chinese provocation: they are said to show a 300-meter-long swimming barrier in the South China Sea. This would prevent Filipino fishermen from entering a lagoon at the Scarborough Reef. Several ships of the Chinese Coast Guard guarded the buoy chain. Philippine officials said on Monday that they wanted to remove the barrier, saying it was illegal.
China claims much of the sea area in the South China Sea, although parts of it actually belong to other nations. Underneath this area, which is located within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines, in it lies the reef. A 2016 arbitration ruling under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea confirms the zone, China does not recognize the ruling.
Christoph Giesen, DER SPIEGEL: "It is interesting that China and the Chinese leadership are arguing almost bizarrely with our European view of things, namely historically. In other words, it is appropriate to say: In the 16th century, however, a demonstrably Chinese person first set foot on this and that island. So it's Chinese territory, and we insist on it."
And Beijing is creating facts: by building islands on uninhabited reefs and stationing military forces on them. According to a Philippine spokesman, the barrier on the Scarborough Reef, discovered during a routine patrol, is a problem for fishermen: it denies them access to the fish-rich lagoon surrounded by underwater corals, and Philippine food security is in danger.
Christoph Giesen, DER SPIEGEL: "What we are seeing is a policy of pinpricks that has been going on for years. The People's Republic of China is trying to clearly delineate this territory of the South China Sea as its own. China assumes that about 80 percent of the South China Sea belongs to China and thus also to the economic exploitation of China. We have very large deposits of raw materials there, about 30 million barrels of oil are stored there, very large reserves of natural gas. And what is also very strategically important for China is that a large part of the international trade traffic, shipping routes, go precisely through this South China Sea."
Exports and imports via shipping routes through the South China Sea are China's lifeline, and Beijing is determined to control them.
This footage, filmed by the Reuters news agency in early September, is said to show Chinese ships trying to block the way of the Philippine Coast Guard and fishing boats. It almost came to a collision when a supply mission tried to reach this grounded Philippine warship.
Emmanuel Dangate, Philippine Coast Guard: "We are repeatedly confronted with dangerous maneuvers, shadowing activities and blockades – not only by ships of the Chinese Coast Guard, but also by ships of the Chinese militia."
As early as 2012, China claimed the lagoon for itself, forcing Filipino fishermen to go further out – where they also catch significantly fewer fish. The Asian dispute could spread: the sea areas claimed by China are also in the economic zones of Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan. For the Filipinos, there is no solution in sight to the dispute: if they were to remove the barriers, Beijing would probably simply rebuild them elsewhere.
Christoph Giesen, DER SPIEGEL: "You won't move a millimeter in any direction. They will just do it over and over again and make it clear to the neighbors, in this case especially the Filipinos: this is Chinese territory. This is Chinese maritime area, this is the Chinese economic zone. You have no business there."