Philippines diver removes 1,000ft floating barrier deployed by Beijing

Moment Philippines diver armed with a knife removes enormous 1,000ft floating barrier installed by Beijing near disputed South China Sea island

  • The barrier was allegedly installed by Beijing to stop Filipino fisherman in area
  • Scarborough Shoal – a strategic atoll – was seized it in 2012 by China

This is the moment a Filipino diver armed with a knife severed an enormous 1,000ft floating barrier installed by Beijing near a disputed South China Sea reef.

The Philippine Coast Guard said it had removed the barrier that was allegedly deployed by China to stop Filipinos from accessing the traditional fishing ground in the latest flash point between the two countries over competing maritime claims.

As the coast guard released footage of the barrier being cut, Beijing reacted angrily to the admission, warning Manila on Tuesday not to ‘stir up trouble’.

The clip showed a diver cutting what the coast guard said was a 300-meter (984-feet) long string of buoys near Bajo de Masinloc, also known as Scarborough Shoal.

The shoal – found 130 miles west of the Philippine island of Luzon – is small, but seen as a strategic location for both countries, while also being a fertile fishing ground.

This is the moment a Filipino diver armed with a knife severed an enormous 1,000ft floating barrier installed by Beijing near a disputed South China Sea reef

 With coastguard personnel posing as fishermen in a small rickety boat, the diver had reached the barrier on Monday, the Philippines said.

The video – presumably filmed by another diver – shows the first diver with a simple snorkelling mask swimming below the waves, holding a small knife.

After swimming down the barrier, he takes a moment to pull the camera closer to show the cable, before easily slicing through it with the blade.

He and the camera operate then both return to the surface, before fleeing the scene.

China’s coastguard had even removed remnants of the ball-buoy barrier from the Scarborough Shoal, a Philippine coastguard spokesperson said.

They added Beijing was measured in its response to the presence of the vessel, which reached its closest point to the strategic atoll since China seized it in 2012.

China claims more than 90 percent of the South China Sea. 

Coastguard spokesperson Commodore Jay Tarriela said four Chinese vessels were in the area when a Philippine ship approached and were ‘not that aggressive’, adding it was clear media were on board the Philippine ship.

The Chinese took away the barrier, a few hours after discovering it was no longer aligned and blocking the lagoon, Tarriela told DWPM radio.

‘They might still return the floating barrier once again, they might still do shadowing and dangerous maneouvres once again,’ he told CNN Philippines, adding that the Philippines ‘will not back down’ and will maintain its presence in the sea.

This photo taken on September 20, 2023 shows a Chinese coast guard ship (back) shadowing Philippine fishing boats anchored near the Chinese-controlled Scarborough Shoal in disputed waters of the South China Sea

The Scarborough Shoal, a prime fishing spot off the Philippines and within its exclusive economic zone (EEZ), has been the site of decades of on-off disputes over sovereignty.

China made no direct mention of the barrier on Monday but its foreign ministry said the coastguard had moved on Friday to repel a Philippine vessel ‘intruding’ in what were indisputably Chinese waters. 

But on Tuesday, Beijing warned Manila not to ‘stir up trouble’.

‘China firmly upholds the sovereignty and maritime rights and interests of the Huangyan island,’ said foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin, adding: ‘We advise the Philippines not to provoke or stir up trouble.’

Japan’s government urged restraint.

The Philippines and China have repeatedly sparred over the shoal but under the previous pro-China administration in Manila, tension had been lowered for several years.

But ties have soured this year, as new President Ferdinand Marcos Jr, who authorised the cutting of the cordon, seeks to strengthen relations with ally the United States.

Such efforts included giving the U.S. military expanded access to Philippine bases.

Vessels of the two countries have faced off several times this year elsewhere in Philippine EEZ, such as at the Second Thomas Shoal.

There Manila has accused China of dangerous and aggressive acts in blocking resupply missions to a handful of troops stationed on a rusty, grounded warship.

China says that occupation is illegal.

This photo taken on September 21, 2023 shows the sun rising past a Philippine fishing boat near the Chinese-controlled Scarborough Shoal in disputed waters of the South China Sea

Late on Monday Chinese nationalist tabloid the Global Times posted an article that quoted an expert saying Philippine decision-makers were acting under the influence of a United States bent on instigating conflicts in the South China Sea to contain Beijing.

Control of the shoal, about 528 miles off mainland China, is a sensitive issue for Beijing, which for the past decade has maintained a constant presence of coastguard ships and fishing vessels there.

The rocky outcrop figured in a case the Philippines took to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague, which ruled in 2016 that China’s claim to most of the South China Sea had no basis under international law.

China does not recognise the ruling.

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