Thursday, 12 April 2012

China and the Philippines in South China Sea stand-off

Ships from China and the Philippines are engaged in a stand-off over a remote and disputed shoal in the South China Sea. Despite the tension, both sides are pledging a diplomatic solution.

A warship from the Philippines approached the Scarborough Shoal, off the country’s northwestern coast, on 7 April as part of a routine patrol. There it found eight Chinese fishing boats, and upon boarding them claimed to have found illegally-caught fish and coral.

Two Chinese surveillance boats then arrived and blocked the Philippine warship from arresting the fishermen. A third arrived on 11 April, whilst the Philippines sent a second vessel to back up its warship on 12 April.
The situation is reportedly tense, with the fishermen essentially blockaded onto the uninhabited shoal. The Chinese media has taken a bellicose stance, warning that it will “react accordingly” in the event of a military clash and accused Manila of taking a “radical approach”.

Chinese state media and government officials have also been insistent that the shoal belongs to China. Filipino Foreign Secretary Albert Del Roasrio, meanwhile, said that the shoal “is an integral part of Philippine territory”.

The dispute over ownership reflects a much wider dispute over maritime borders in the South China Sea. China claims vast tracts of the sea, including its many island chains, largely due to the extensive oil and gas resources which are believed to lie beneath them.
Despite the confrontation, both Manila and Beijing have stated their commitment to a diplomatic solution. Filipino officials have reportedly proposed a compromise solution, although details have not been made public and China has not formally responded.
The situation is likely to cool down but it underscores the rising tensions across the South China Sea, where relations China and US-backed states are increasingly fraught. Manila recently called for a coordinated stance by South-East Asian states on the South China Sea, before entering into discussions with China on maritime borders.

Sources: Guardian, BBC, Global Times, Reuters

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