Chinese fishing fleet casts nets off Philippines

Posted at 07/16/2012 8:10 PM | Updated as of 07/17/2012 2:03 AM

MANILA, Philippines - A 30-vessel Chinese fishing fleet anchored off the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea on Sunday (July 15), amid tensions involving territorial disputes in the region.

The fleet, which includes a patrol vessel for protection and a 3,000-tonne supply ship, left China's southern Hainan province on July 12 to explore new fishing areas, state agency Xinhua reported.

The ships will cast their nets on Monday night, and plan to stay on fishing by the islands' Yongshu reef for about 10 days, Xinhua said.

The South China Sea has become Asia's biggest potential military flashpoint as Beijing's sovereignty claim over the huge area has set it against Vietnam and the Philippines. Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei also have claims.

Last month, China said it "vehemently opposed" a Vietnamese law asserting sovereignty over the Paracel and Spratly Islands, which straddle key shipping lanes and are thought to contain rich energy reserves.

That row came days after an easing in a months-long standoff between China and the Philippines, but shows the persistent cycle of territorial frictions triggered by what some see as China's growing assertiveness in the area.

The stakes have risen in the area as the U.S. military shifts its attention and resources back to Asia, emboldening its long-time ally the Philippines and former foe Vietnam to take a bolder stance against Beijing.