China will enforce a fishing ban in waters around a disputed island in the resource-rich South China Sea from May 16, in an escalation of tensions in the region amid its standoff with the Philippines over the shoal.
The move was seen as an attempt by Beijing to assert its sovereignty over Scarborough Shoal, which China calls Huangyan Island and the Philippines recognises as Panatag Shoal.
The ban, which comes into effect from May 16, will last for two and a half months. All fishing vessels should be moored and nets shelved during the ban. Violators can have their catches and boats confiscated, and fined up to 50,000 yuan ($7,936), state-run Xinhua news agency said on Monday.
Asked about speculation that the ban was in preparation for military action against the Philippines, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said it was a routine administrative measure being taken by China every year to protect maritime resources.
"China has made public its position on the Hongyan island incident many times. It is still committed to the diplomatic resolution of the issue," he said.
About Philippines attempt to take the dispute to international court, Hong said "China demands Philippines to earnestly respect China's territorial sovereignty".
"Do not take measures that complicate or escalate the situation. In particular they should be committed to the political resolution of the situation instead of whipping up public opinion and sending contradictory messages," he said.
Besides putting out a travel advisory resulting in the cancellation of hundreds of Chinese tourists to Philippines, China also said those tourists who are already there will return by May 16.
Over 600 Chinese tourist would return to China by May 16, as that is the final contract day for the remaining groups of Chinese tourists currently travelling in the Philippines, Xinhua quoted officials as saying.