The Philippines has reported the removal of a floating barrier installed by China in a disputed area of the South China Sea, with President Ferdinand Marcos Junior giving the directive. The Philippines alleges that China violated its fishing rights by placing a 300-meter (1,000-foot) barrier in the Scarborough Shoal, which Beijing claims as its own.

China, which asserts sovereignty over more than 90% of the South China Sea, had seized the shoal in 2012. The Chinese coastguard argued that the barrier was a “necessary measure,” but the Philippines contended that it posed a hazard to navigation and violated international law. It also obstructed the livelihoods of Filipino fishermen who rely on the area.

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The Scarborough Shoal is considered an integral part of the Philippine national territory. The barrier was discovered by a Philippine patrol, and when confronted by Chinese vessels, radio challenges and accusations of violating international and Chinese laws were issued before they departed upon realizing the presence of media personnel on the Philippine vessel.

Japan has urged calm and emphasized the importance of regional stability in the South China Sea, a region rich in fishing resources and believed to contain significant oil and gas reserves. China’s extensive territorial claims have not only triggered objections from the Philippines but also from Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Brunei. China has reinforced its claims through actions such as island-building and naval patrols.

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While the United States maintains that it does not take sides in territorial disputes, it has conducted “freedom of navigation” operations by sending military ships and aircraft near disputed islands. Tensions have escalated since Ferdinand Marcos Jr assumed the presidency, restoring security ties with the US and granting American troops greater access to Philippine military bases in early 2023. This move has drawn China’s ire, as it perceives an expanded US presence in the Philippines as part of a broader arc of alliances extending from South Korea and Japan in the north to Australia in the south.