Fisherfolks in Scarborough Shoal area in Masinloc, Zambales. — REUTERS

CHINA has rejected the Philippines’ protest against its yearly fishing ban in the South China Sea, saying the four-month moratorium is meant to protect marine resources in waters under its jurisdiction.

“China cannot accept the unwarranted accusation of the Philippine Foreign Ministry,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a news briefing on Wednesday, according to a transcript posted on the agency’s website.

“The summer fishing moratorium in the South China Sea adopted by China is a normal measure of protecting marine biological resources in waters under China’s jurisdiction,” he said.

It is also a part of its obligations under international law including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, he added.

The South China Sea, a key global shipping route, is subject to overlapping territorial claims from China, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.

The Philippines has released a diplomatic note admonishing the fishing moratorium that began on May 1 and is expected to last until Aug. 16.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) this week said the Philippines has “sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction” over the disputed areas. It cited a 2016 arbitral award by a United Nations (UN)-backed tribunal that voided China’s claim to more than 80% of the sea.

China has rejected the ruling, calling it null and void.

“We hope the Philippine side can view it in an objective and correct perspective, and earnestly fulfill the obligations as a littoral state of the South China Sea to jointly promote sustainable development of fishery in the South China Sea,” Mr. Zhao said.

The Philippines had been protesting China’s annual fishing ban over areas that extend “far beyond” its legitimate maritime entitlements under the 1982 UNCLOS.

“The declaration of a moratorium on fishing that extends to the West Philippine Sea has no basis in law and undermines the mutual trust, confidence and respect that should underpin bilateral relations, as affirmed most recently by President Rodrigo R. Duterte and President Xi Jinping during their telesummit on April 8,” DFA said. 

The Philippines this week summoned a senior Chinese Embassy official as it accused Beijing of harassing a research vessel near the Second Thomas Shoal, which is part of the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone and continental shelf in the South China Sea.

The Philippines issued the summons on April 13 to protest the alleged bullying of RV Legend, which was conducting an authorized marine scientific research activity, by a Chinese vessel, Foreign Affairs Deputy Assistant Secretary Gonar B. Musor told reporters via WhatsApp. — Alyssa Nicole O. Tan