China orders Philippine Navy to leave disputed waters
April 11, 2012 5:05PM
A STAND-OFF between China and the Philippines near a group of islands in the disputed South China Sea intensified when China ordered a Philippine Navy vessel to leave what it claims is its territory.
The escalation came after Manila said that its flagship navy vessel BRP Gregorio Dal Pilar was in a stand-off with two Chinese surveillance ships that had blocked the arrest of Chinese fishermen it claims were illegally collecting corals, sharks and clams.
A statement issued by the Philippines Department of Foreign Affairs said eight Chinese fishing vessels were anchored within Philippine territory off Scarborough Shoal, 124 nautical miles from the western coast of the country's main island of Luzon.
A navy team was dispatched to inspect the fishing vessels and collect photos and other evidence of their catch, the statement said, adding that the team found large amounts of illegally collected corals, giant clams and live sharks inside one vessel.
The navy ship later reported that "two Chinese maritime surveillance ships identified as Zhonggou Haijian 75 and Zhonggou Haijian 84" had placed themselves in front of the Chinese fishing vessels, preventing the arrest of the Chinese fishermen.
The Philippine government said it was seeking a diplomatic solution and had invited the Chinese ambassador to meet with the government.
Later Wednesday, however, the Chinese embassy in Manila issued a statement ordering the Philippine Navy vessel to leave the area around what it calls Huangyan Island.
"On April 10, the Chinese Embassy got the report that 12 Chinese fishing boats are getting in the lagoon of Huangyan Island and take shelter due to harsh weather conditions when a Philippine Naval gunboat blocked the entrance of the lagoon, and sent 12 Philippine soldiers, six of which armed, went into the lagoon and harassed the Chinese fishermen," the statement said.
"Upon getting the report, the Embassy immediately lodged a representation to the Department of Foreign Affairs of the Philippines and reiterated China's sovereignty over Huangyan Island, urged the Philippine side to stop immediately their illegal activities and leave this area."
The embassy added that it was still "engaged in discussions" with the Philippines to seek a solution to the issue.
The sovereignty of the Scarborough Shoal has long been disputed, with the Philippines, China and Taiwan all laying claim to the islands.
China is locked in a series of overlapping territorial disputes with the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei, who claim either all or part of the South China Sea as their sovereign territory.
The dispute has flared in recent months as the region's potential energy reserves begin to draw growing attention, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Already this week, a hawkish Chinese general has warned that the Philippines is facing its "last chance" to peacefully resolve sovereignty disputes over the South China Sea.
Major General Luo Yuan, writing in the Global Times newspaper, accused the Philippines of hijacking a recent Southeast Asian summit in order to further pressure China over the South China Sea, and warned that Manila's alleged provocations would fail.
"The biggest miscalculation of the Philippines is that it has mis-estimated the strength and willpower of China to defend its territorial integrity," Gen Luo wrote.