Philippine fishermen threw fire bombs at Chinese law enforcement vessels in the South China Sea, according to China’s Foreign Ministry on Tuesday while Philippine media reports fishermen had been attacked by bottles hurled from Chinese coastguard ships.
China and the Philippines have long criticised eachother's actions in the disputed South China Sea.
Philippine media claimed this week that a group of fishermen had been chased away from Scarborough Shoal by Chinese coastguards who hurled bottles at them. The fishermen then responded with rocks, the reports said.
Responding to the incident, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Scarborough Shoal - known by Beijing as Huangyan Island - is Chinese territory and that Philippine fishermen had been fishing around illegally.
"Chinese official ships advised the illegally stationed Philippine trawlers to leave, in accordance with the law, but they refused to obey," she told a daily news briefing.
"Certain people on the ships even waved around machetes and flung fire bombs, carrying out deliberate provocation, attacking the Chinese law enforcers and official boat, confronting China's law enforcement and seriously threatening the safety and order of the waters around Huangyan Island," Hua said.
China had strengthened its "management" around the shoal, she added, without elaborating.
A spokesman for the Philippines Foreign Ministry said, "We can't comment at this time as we are still awaiting the official report from our concerned agencies on the incident."
Furious Waves in South China Sea
China has long been confronted by its maritime neighbours Taiwan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Brunei in South China Sea's territorial waters.
China claims most of the energy-rich waters through which about $5 trillion of ship-borne trade passes every year. Besides China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines and Taiwan also have claims in the South China Sea.
The Philippines has been the most active in standing against China’s territorial water claims in the region and believes that unless ASEAN countries halt “Chinese revisionism,” the area will be taken under “de facto Beijing control” in the medium term.
China started its reclamation campaign in the South China Sea adding almost 3,000 acres of artificial land and mere rocks barely above the water to its sovereignty saying the islands are being built for civilian purposes.
After some satellite photographs showing the construction of three military length airstrips that might be used for military purposes emerged, the US, Japan and Philippines have voiced that they are concerned by China’s expansion.