Relations between China and the Philippines just went from bad to worse. Despite warnings from Beijing, Filipino prosecutors said they will charge nine alleged Chinese poachers who were arrested for capturing protected sea turtles.
Allan Ross Rodriguez, the prosecutor leading the case, told the AFP that he will file charges despite appeals made by two Chinese diplomats on behalf of the nine fishermen who were detained in the disputed South China Sea.
"It is clear: There was a fishing vessel, Chinese fishermen, a catch of [protected] sea turtles," Rodriguez said. "It is clear from what the apprehending officers said."
The Chinese fishing boat was detained by Filipino authorities last week, near an area called Half Moon Shoal, after nearly five hundred sea turtles, an animal protected by Filipino conservation laws, were discovered on board. Of the 11 fishermen detained, two are minors and will be repatriated without charges, according to Rodriguez.
The remaining nine fishermen will be charged with violating laws against poaching and catching protected species. If found guilty, the Chinese fishermen could face up to 20 years in prison and large fines.
Beijing issued warnings to the Philippines to free the fishermen, since it claims “undisputable sovereignty” over the shoal, adding to the ongoing territory dispute in the South China Sea between the two nations. The Chinese foreign ministry and China's embassy in Manila also urged the Philippines to “stop taking further provocative action” that could cause relations to deteriorate further.
China is also locked in a standoff with Vietnam over another area in the South China Sea. Last week, a Chinese vessel was accused of intentionally ramming two Vietnamese ships, according to the Foreign Ministry of Hanoi, causing considerable damage to the Vietnamese ships and injuring six people on board.