MANILA The Philippines protested on Tuesday against China's use of a water cannon on Filipino fishermen in disputed waters of the South China Sea warning that the incident would escalate tension.
China's chargé d'affaires in Manila, Sun Xiangyang, was summoned to hear the Philippines "strongly protest the efforts of China to prohibit Filipino fishermen from undertaking fishing activities in the Philippines' Bajo de Masinloc", said Raul Hernandez, the foreign ministry spokesman.
Hernandez, referring to the South China Sea's Scarborough Shoal fishing ground by its Philippine name, said the fishermen had been merely sheltering from bad weather in the area.
"We call on China to respect our sovereignty and rights of our fishermen," Hernandez told a news conference.
"These actions, these incidents surely escalates the tension in the area. And this further threatens the peace and security and stability in the region."
China's Foreign Ministry rebuffed the complaint, saying Chinese ships patrolled the region to protect China's sovereignty and ensure "normal order".
"China does not accept so-called representations or protests from the Philippines," spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a daily news briefing in Beijing.
"For foreign ships in these seas, Chinese ships have been carrying out necessary management appropriately and reasonably," she added.
"We demand that the relevant country earnestly respect China's sovereignty, and not provoke any new incidents."
Since the beginning of the year, China has required foreign fishing boats to get approval before entering waters that it a claims as its own.
On January 27, a Chinese coastguard vessel tried to drive away Filipino fishermen from Scarborough Shoal by using a water cannon, General Emmanuel Bautista, the head of Philippine military said on Monday.
China claims about 90 percent of the South China Sea's 3.5 million sq km (1.35 million sq mile) waters. The sea provides 10 percent of the global fish catch, carries $5 trillion in ship-borne trade a year and its seabed is believed to be rich with energy reserves.
Taiwan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei and Vietnam also claim parts of the sea.
Speaking to reporters, President Benigno Aquino said the government would seek clarification from China about "what this incident was all about".
"We are not sure, at this point, if we can call it their standard operating procedure," the president said. The Department of Foreign Affairs said there were nine harassment incidents in the same area last year.
The Philippines has urged ASEAN to conclude a binding code of conduct with China to avoid accidents and miscalculations in the disputed waters.
The Philippines has taken its dispute with China to arbitration under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea but China is refusing to participate in the case.
China has rejected challenges to its sovereignty claims and accused the Philippines of illegally occupying Chinese islands in the seas and of provoking tension.
This month, the commander of the U.S. Navy said the United States would come to the aid of the Philippines in the event of conflict with China over disputed waters.
(Reporting By Manuel Mogato; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in BEIJING; Editing Michael Perry and Robert Birsel)