Asia

Philippines says China 'fired water cannon' on Filipino fishermen

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief Emmanuel Bautista (L) talks during the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP) annual prospects forum as he sits beside US Ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg (R) in Manila, on 24 February 2014 Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Gen Bautista, left, said the the firing of the water cannon happened in January

A Chinese vessel has fired a water cannon at Filipino fishermen near a disputed shoal in the South China Sea, a top Philippine official says.

Military chief Gen Emmanuel Bautista said the incident happened at the Scarborough Shoal on 27 January.

Chinese officials did not comment on the incident when questioned during a routine briefing, but re-asserted China's claim to the waters.

It is just the latest dispute over an area believed to be rich in resources.

China claims ownership of large parts of the South China Sea, including the Scarborough Shoal, which lie off the coast of the Philippines.

Aside from the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan also have competing claims with China over various islands, reefs and shoals in the region.

Scarborough Shoal was the scene of a tense stand-off between the Philippines and China in early 2012, when vessels from the two countries refused to leave the area for a number of weeks.

It led to protests and angry rhetoric on both sides.

Chinese vessels have since remained at the shoal. The Philippines, for its part, challenged China's territorial claims at a UN tribunal last year.

"The Chinese coast guard tried to drive away Filipino fishing vessels to the extent of using water cannon," Gen Bautista told a foreign reporters' forum in Manila on Monday.

He added that while the Philippines is hoping for a peaceful resolution, it would not hesitate to respond to provocation if needed.

He declined to provide more details on the incident, which he said was being investigated.

Meanwhile, China's foreign ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, told reporters in Beijing: "I would like to re-emphasise that China has indisputable sovereignty over relevant waters and China's maritime surveillance fleet are carrying out routine patrols in relevant waters."

Earlier this month, China's state news agency branded Philippine President Benigno Aquino a "disgrace" for comments in connection with the South China Sea row in which he compared China to Nazi Germany.

Mr Aquino called for world leaders not to appease China over its claims in the South China Sea in the same way nations tried to appease Hitler before World War Two.

Relations between China and Japan are also currently under strain over a separate territorial row involving islands in the East China Sea.

It is believed that the disputed area in the South China Sea, which is considered a strategic shipping lane, may hold vast reserves of natural resources.

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