China on Monday again urged the Philippines to avoid actions that may increase tensions in the dispute over Huangyan Island, which is irrelevant to the upcoming routine fishing ban in northern parts of the South China Sea.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei made the remarks at a regular news conference, as some Chinese netizens speculated whether the ban was a preparation for war with the Southeastern Asian nation.
"The ban is an annual attempt that has been taken by the national administration for decades, and the aim is to protect fishery resources in the South China Sea. It is irrelevant to the dispute over Huangyan Island," he told reporters.
According to a statement from the South China Sea Fishery Bureau of the Ministry of Agriculture, fishing will be banned beginning on Wednesday in northern parts of the South China Sea, including the waters around Huangyan Island, for the next two and a half months.
All fishing operations, except gill-netting and angling, will be banned, the statement said.
Violators of the ban will see their catches and boats confiscated and fishing licenses revoked and face fines up to 50,000 yuan ($7,900), apart from the seizure of their catches and illegitimate earnings, it said.
"The ban has no relation to the current tensions in the dispute over Huangyan Island. It is a regular measure that China takes to protect fishery resources in this area every year," said Yang Shaosong, an official with the South China Sea Fishery Bureau.
The ban is a measure that has been issued annually since 1999 to preserve biodiversity, as local fishing resources have declined greatly due to over-fishing in the past few decades, fishery authorities and experts said.
There are currently about 90,000 Chinese fishing boats in the South China Sea, said Qiu Yongsong, a researcher with the South China Sea Fisheries Research Institute under the Chinese Academy of Fishery Sciences.
"The number of Philippine fishing boats around Huangyan Island is always very small," he said.
Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said on Monday that President Benigno Aquino has decided Manila should impose its own ban, and details were expected in the coming days, AP reported.
Although China and the Philippines have resumed negotiations over Huangyan Island, Rosario said on Saturday that the Philippines will never agree to the demands and will instead seek only a temporary agreement to the stalemate until a long-lasting solution can be obtained.
Philippine officials have asked for the dispute to be settled at the International Tribunal on the Law of the Seas.
"We hope the Philippines respects China's sovereignty and avoids adopting any actions to make the issue bigger and more complicated," Hong Lei said, stressing that the dispute should be settled through diplomatic means.
Huang Shanchun, commissar of Guangzhou Military Area Command, said on Monday that the Chinese army has the ability and determination to defend Huangyan Island.
"Whatever the Philippines does or if it draws other countries into the dispute, it will not change the fact that the Huangyan Island is an inherent part of Chinese territory," he said.
Abdullah Badawi, former prime minister of Malaysia, said during a speech on Monday at Beijing Foreign Studies University that China has the confidence to solve the problem through diplomatic efforts, and ASEAN countries will be happy to see the problem solved.
"I believe that if any problem happens, it will be solved through engagement and open dialogue," he said.
A group of Chinese gathered on Sunday at the Philippine embassy in Washington to protest Manila's groundless claim over the sovereignty of Huangyan Island, Chinese media reported.
The protesters turned up in the morning in front of the Philippine embassy, carrying banners and chanting slogans that Huangyan Island is an inherent territory of China and demanding that Philippine ships leave the area, people.com.cn reported.
Organizers of the protest handed out official Philippine maps published in 1990 and 2008 and said the maps show that Huangyan Island has never been a part of the Philippines, the report said.
In London, dozens of Chinese protesters defied rain on Monday morning to gather outside the Philippine embassy to protest against Manila's claim.
Many protesters are Chinese students, who waved national flags, chanted slogans, and carried signs calling for the Philippines to keep its "hands off our Huangyan Island". Some students even took a train to arrive in London from Nottingham.
China and the Philippines have been embroiled in a dispute over Huangyan Island in the South China Sea for a month, stemming from Philippine harassment of Chinese fishermen who sought harbor at the island from bad weather.