Philippines urges China to allow scrutiny of disputed South China Sea shoal

Philippines' foreign ministry holds a joint news conference on water cannon incident in the South China Sea

MANILA (Reuters) - The Philippines challenged China on Monday to open Scarborough Shoal to international scrutiny after it accused Beijing of destroying the shoal's marine environment.

Maritime tension has been rising in the South China Sea between Manila and Beijing, as the Philippines has accused China of using water cannon and blocking manoeuvres through disputed shoals and reefs.

Control of the Scarborough Shoal, seized by China in 2012, figured in the Philippines case at a Hague arbitration tribunal, which ruled in 2016 that Beijing's claim to 90% of the South China Sea had no basis in international law.

"We are alarmed and worried about the situation that's happening there," Philippine National Security spokesperson Jonathan Malaya told a press conference.

Government consensus was growing on the need to file a case against China over the destruction of coral reefs, including the harvesting of endangered giant clams, in the South China Sea, Malaya added.

Photographs taken by the Philippine coast guard from 2018 to 2019 showed individuals it said were Chinese fishermen illegally harvesting giant clams, sting rays, topshells and sea turtles depleting the shoal's marine environment.

"That's a clear evidence of being careless. They don't really care about the marine environment," Jay Tarriela, the coast guard spokesperson, told Monday's conference.

"If you really believe in what you're saying, open up Bajo de Masinloc to international scrutiny, it has to be a third party," Malaya said, using Manila's name for the Scarborough Shoal.

Last week, China's coast guard published rules to enforce a 2021 law allowing authorities to fire on foreign vessels when its sovereignty and sovereign rights are infringed.

China's foreign ministry said on Monday "if there is no illegal behaviour by the individuals and bodies involved, there is no need to worry."

But Malaya said China had no authority over the high seas and the latest regulations went contrary to international law, dismissing them as a "scare tactic" to intimidate and coerce Asian neighbours.

"The Philippines will not be intimidated nor coerced by the Chinese Coast Guard. We will never succumb to these scare tactics," he said.

(Reporting by Mikhail Flores; Editing by John Mair and Clarence Fernandez)