05/13/2014, 00.00
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South China Sea: Manila wants to prosecute Chinese fishermen for poaching

A Filipino prosecutor charges 11 Beijing fishermen with poaching "protected species". They were surprised with hundreds of sea turtles on board, and now face up to 20 years in prison . Beijing threatens retaliation and claims "indisputable sovereignty " over the area. ASEAN warns : some countries (Vietnam ) damage " friendly cooperation " .

Manila ( AsiaNews / Agencies) - A Filipino prosecutor has indicted nine Chinese fishermen, recently arrested in the disputed waters of the South China Sea, for damaging the environment despite threats of retaliation and reprisal from Beijing. The lawsuit is just the latest in a series of clashes, not only diplomatic, between the Land of the Dragon and various nations in the Asia -Pacific region. Beijing's relationship with the Manila has become increasingly bitter since the latter denounced China to the UN international tribunal, and Hanoi, which has protested several times against the placement of an extraction platform at a point under Vietnam's exclusive economic jurisdication. In this case, the court has accused the fishermen of violating the laws "against poaching" and the "capture of protected species" after being caught with a huge quantity (in the hundreds) of sea turtles - a protected species - aboard their boat. There were 11 crew members on board the detained vessel, who now face up to 20 years in prison and a heavy fine if found guilty.

Manila's coast guard surprised the Chinese fishing boat off the coast of Half Moon Shoal, disputed by Beijing, 111 kilometers (just 60 nautical miles) from the coast of Palawan, the westernmost tip of the Philippine archipelago. Two of the crew are minors and therefore will not be tried. The specimens that survived capture were released in a bay of Palawan. Beijing has warned the Philippines to free the fishermen, because it claims "indisputable sovereignty" over the islands and warns Manila to "stop taking further provocative action".

The dispute between China on the one hand, and Vietnam, and the Philippineson the other, dominated last week's at the last ASEAN summit, which was held over the weekend in Myanmar. The leaders of the association that brings together 10 Southeast Asian nations expressed "great concern" over territorial disputes and called on the parties concerned (though without directly mentioning Beijing) to exercise "restraint" and avoid "the use of force".  In response, Beijing criticized "some nations" for damaging "friendly cooperation" within ASEAN itself. Chinese Foreign Ministry Hua Chunying, pointed out that " his South China Sea issue is not a problem between China and Asean" although "certain countries are attempting to jeopardise friendly cooperation between China and Asean countries by making use of the South China Sea issue".

Vietnam is not alone in its concerns. The Philippines too has been increasingly worried about Beijing's imperialism in the South China and East China seas. The Chinese government claims most of the sea (almost 85 per cent), including sovereignty over the disputed Spratly and Paracel islands, in opposition to Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei and Malaysia. In recent months, China has used various political, economic and diplomatic means to hamper non-Chinese vessels from fishing or moving through the disputed waters.  For the United States, which backs the claims of Southeast Asia nations, Beijing's so-called 'cow tongue' line is both "illegal" and "irrational".

Anyone with a hegemonic sway over the region would have a strategic advantage, in terms of seabed (oil and gas) development, but also in trade since two thirds of the world's maritime trade transit through it.  Almost uninhabited, the area's islands are thought to hold extensive oil and natural gas reserves as well as other raw materials. India, Australia and the United States are also parties to the dispute in various degrees. In view of the conflicting interests and alliances that crisscross the Asia-Pacific region, the area is one of the hottest geopolitical spots in the world, one that could even trigger a new global war.



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