MANILA (Reuters) – The Philippines rejected an annual summer fishing ban imposed by China in the disputed South China Sea and encouraged its boats to continue fishing in the country’s territorial waters. The fishing moratorium imposed by China since 1999 runs from May 1 to August 16 and covers areas of the South China Sea, as well as other waters off China. “This fishing ban does not apply to our fishermen,” the Philippine South China Sea working group said in a statement late Tuesday. The task force opposed China’s imposition of the ban on areas within the territory and jurisdiction of the Philippines, adding that “our fishermen are encouraged to go out and fish in our waters in the WPS (Western Philippine Sea ) “. The Chinese embassy in Manila did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Manila, which refers to the area as the Western Philippine Sea, has for years been embroiled in a dispute over Beijing’s broad sovereignty claims over the South China Sea. In 2016, an international court annulled China’s claims, but China rejected the ruling. Tensions between the two countries have recently escalated after Manila accused China of territorial incursions by hundreds of its vessels on the resource-rich waterway. The Philippines has filed diplomatic protests against China over what it calls the “illegal” presence of Chinese ships, which it says are manned by militias. Chinese diplomats have said the ships were sheltering from the rough seas and that there were no militias on board. The Philippine South China Sea task force said it saw seven “Chinese maritime militias” in the Sabina shoal in the disputed Spratly archipelago on April 27, which dispersed after being challenged by the Philippine coast guard. Five returned two days later, but left after the Philippine coast guard arrived, he said. The Sabina Bank is located about 130 nautical miles off the western Philippine island of Palawan. “The Philippines is not deterred from defending our national interest, heritage and our dignity as a people with all that we have,” the task force said.
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