The Philippines will defy new Chinese fishing rules in disputed areas of the South China Sea and the navy will escort fishing boats to protect them if necessary, the defense secretary said on Thursday.
China imposed fishing restrictions from the beginning of year, requiring foreign fishing vessels to obtain approval before entering the waters.
Claims by an increasingly powerful China over most of the energy-rich South China Sea have set it directly against U.S. allies Vietnam and the Philippines. Brunei, Taiwan and Malaysia also claim parts of the waters and China has a separate dispute with Japan in the East China Sea.
"We will not follow their rules," Philippine Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin told reporters. "Why should we seek permission from another country? They do not own our fishing grounds. That's ours, okay."
Gazmin said the navy would escort the boats if needed. "We still have the capability to secure them," he said. "There is really a need to show force because China has been very aggressive lately. They started with air defense identification zone, then this fishing laws."
China established the air defense identification zone in the East China Sea, requiring all aircraft to report flight plans to Chinese authorities, maintain radio contact and reply promptly to identification inquiries.
The zone triggered protests from the United States, Japan and South Korea. The fishing rules add another irritant to Sino-U.S. ties.
Liu Xigui, director of China's State Oceanic Administration whose ships generally carry out patrols in the East and South China Sea, said China would "strengthen" its sea presence this year, including around Scarborough Shoal, one of the main areas of contention with the Philippines.
"In 2014, we will... resolutely uphold and protect the state's maritime rights," the official Xinhua news agency quoted him as saying.
The fishing rules do not outline penalties, but the requirements are similar to a 2004 law that says boats entering Chinese territory without permission can have their catch and equipment seized and face fines of up to 500,000 yuan ($82,600).
China was imposing the fishing rules because it was projecting itself as a superpower, Gazmin said. "But, it is applying its being a superpower to smaller countries like us which have no capability to fight militarily."