Filipino fishermen hurled “fire bombs” and brandished knives at Chinese government vessels during a dispute over Scarborough Shoal (Philippine name: Panatag Shoal) in the West Philippine Sea, Beijing said, Tuesday.

There have been reports from the Philippine media this week saying local fishermen had been rammed by the Chinese coast guard near Panatag Shoal.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said that the Philippine fishing vessels had “defied” orders to leave the area.

“People on Philippines’ vessels even brandished knives and hurled firebombs at Chinese ships,” she said, adding that the attacks were intended to “deliberately provoke” Chinese law enforcement vessels “and seriously endanger the order and safety of Huangyan’s (Scarborough Shoal) territorial waters.”

Last week, 17 Filipino fishermen claimed that Chinese Coast Guard harassed them near the disputed Panatag Shoal by using blinding, laser lights to drive them away from their traditional fishing grounds, while another group of fishermen said that the Chinese Coast Guard rammed their boat after asking them several times to leave the area.

China says the shoal is part of its historical claim to most of the South China Sea.

Scarborough Shoal is within the Philippines’ 370-km exclusive economic zone, located 230 kilometers from Masinloc, Zambales province.

In 2012, China seized the shoal from the Philippines after a two-month standoff against the Philippine coast guards. It has since prevented access to the shoal, driving away Filipino fishermen from their traditional fishing ground.

The Philippines has since brought the case before an international tribunal to rule on the disputes over territories in the South China Sea, but China has repeatedly asserted its position that it will not participate in the proceedings because the Tribunal has no jurisdiction over China’s “territorial sovereignty over several maritime features in the South China Sea.”

The Tribunal is expected to be able to make a final decision before May.

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