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Defiant fisherman tells Chinese coast guard to 'go away' from disputed territory amid rising tensions

The Chinese and Philippine coast guards have clashed over disputed shoals in the South China Sea over the past year, leading to diplomatic protests for China's use of excessive force.

A Filipino fisherman defiantly ignored the Chinese coast guard when confronted in the disputed South China Sea, telling the authorities to leave and asserting the Philippines' right to the territory. 

"This is Philippine territory. Go away," Joely Saligan, the captain of a small fishing vessel, told the Chinese coast guard, which tried to drive them away from the Scarborough Shoal near the northwestern Philippines.

Saligan relayed the details of the Jan. 12 confrontation to the Philippine Coast Guard after eventually leaving the area. Commodore Jay Tarriela, a spokesperson for the Philippine Coast Guard, said they have validated the written statements and videos submitted by the crew. 

Saligan and his men took a small boat and visited a coral outcrop that becomes exposed during low tide. The crew looked to collect seashells and fish from the area but had to cut their excursion short as five Chinese coast guards, three of whom carried steel batons, landed and ordered the boat to leave. 

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Both sides tried to document the altercation as the Chinese authorities boarded the ship and got physical, trying to take a cellphone one of the fishermen tried to use. 

"They looked angry. They wanted us to return our catch to the sea," Saligan told a group of journalists in Manila. "That’s inhuman because that was food which people should not be deprived of."

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Saligan returned some of his haul to the sea and then left the area. 

The Philippine government may consider a diplomatic protest against China for the incident, which is just one of several between the two countries as they seek to establish claims over the area. 

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Last year saw a series of near-clashes between the two coast guards near the Second Thomas Shoal. The Philippine authorities protested China’s use of a water cannon and military-grade lasers. 

China established a claim to the Scarborough Shoal in 2012, after which the Philippines formally launched a protest that went before a United Nations-backed tribunal. A 2016 ruling went against China, rejecting Beijing’s claims on "historical grounds," but Beijing rejected the arbitration and its outcome. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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