DFA: China inflaming sea dispute

Posted at 04/21/2012 1:55 AM | Updated as of 04/21/2012 6:01 PM

China sends advanced patrol ship to Scarborough

Activists demand withdrawal of Chinese vessels

MANILA, Philippines (2nd UPDATE) -  China's reported deployment of a high tech marine patrol ship at a disputed area in the South China Sea may hamper ongoing talks for a diplomatic settlement, a Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) spokesperson said on Friday.

The most recent dispute is well into its second week, with a Philippine coast guard ship and two Chinese maritime surveillance vessels faced off near the Scarborough Shoal in waters believed to be rich in oil and gas.

Chinese state media reported on Thursday that Beijing had sent its most advanced fishery patrol ship to the South China Sea to safeguard Chinese fishing boats in the area as the standoff showed no sign of ending.

Philippine Foreign Affairs spokesperson Raul Hernandez said the government received information of a white Chinese civilian fishing vessel entering the shoal earlier on Friday, but did not confirm if it was the reported advanced marine vessel that sailed off from China.

Hernandez said China's reported deployment of its most advanced fishing vessel may be interpreted as a sign of aggression that could destabilize ongoing negotiations.

"The agreement was to defuse the tension. The agreement was not to escalate the situation in this Scarborough Shoal. But with the arrival of this new ship we see this action as an aggravation to the situation in the Scarborough Shoal," he said.

Hernandez said while both parties have conflicting claims on the disputed waters, both parties have agreed not to impose actions that could aggravate the situation.

Three Chinese vessels are currently in a standoff with one Philippine Coast guard civilian vessel with situations "relatively calm", he said.

Hernandez said the Philippines is still optimistic of a diplomatic settlement with China, saying they hope Beijing will agree to their invitation to settle the matter at an international court.

"The world knows that China has more ships and more airplanes than the Philippines has, and we cannot compete in this manner. We cannot solve this case in this manner, we are committed to a diplomatic solution," he said.

Activists demand that China withdraw vessels

Meantime, about 300 activists marched in front of the Chinese embassy in Manila's business district on Friday (April 20), demanding China's withdrawal of its vessels from the disputed area in the South China Sea.

Protesters carried placards and banners condemning China's presence, with some chanting "Fight for our sovereignty!".

Activists condemned China's decision to increase its naval presence and called for the case to be judged by an international court.

"We're calling on the Chinese government to immediately and unconditionally remove all of its naval vessels in the area, respect Philippine sovereignty and marine jurisdiction over the area. We are also calling on the Chinese government to cease and desist from its illegal fishing and marine poaching in the area, and we are calling on the Chinese government to go with the Philippine government to the international tribunal of the law of the sea to peacefully and amicably resolve this issue," said Emman Hizon, spokesperson of Akbayan Party.

China has always said it preferred to settle disputes bilaterally, rather than having international involvement.

The Philippines and China have traded diplomatic protests over the confrontation, with the Philippines complaining of intrusion and illegal fishing, and China saying its fishermen were harassed.

The small group of rocky islets, known in the Philippines as the Panatag Shoal but which the Chinese call Huangyan, is about 124 nautical miles off the main Philippine island of Luzon, near a former U.S. Navy base in Subic Bay.

The dispute is one of myriad of conflicting claims over islands, reefs and shoals in the South China Sea that pit China against the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan.