Monday, 30 April 2012

Philippines plans more oil and gas exploration in disputed area

According to Energy undersecretary Jose Layug, the Philippines are planning more oil and gas exploration in the disputed Scarborough Shoal region of the South China Sea. In an interview with ABS-CBN Layug said: "The Chinese are claiming [these areas] but we have said repeatedly that [they are] well within the territorial jurisdiction of the Philippines."

The news comes amid accusations that Beijing is employing "bullying" tactics. According to the Philippines on Saturday 8 April, China allegedly deployed a ship dangerously close to two Philippine vessels in the disputed South China Sea. In the alleged incident a Chinese vessel speeded past two Philippine coast guard ships at more than 37 km per hour, creating a high wave that buffeted the vessels.

No one was hurt but according to foreign department spokesman Raul Hernandez this move by “the Chinese vessel posed a danger to the Philippine vessels". He added: "Our ships did not react to the bullying.”

This latest incident is the most serious since the standoff began on 8 April, when the Philippines tried to arrest Chinese fishermen in the shoal for poaching and were blocked by Chinese ships. China has warned the Philippines against internationalising the conflict over the disputed area, about 230km from the Philippines' main island of Luzon. Experts fear that the on-going conflict may destabilise regional security.

China has territorial disputes with the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan across the South China Sea, and these nations are worried about what some see as growing Chinese assertiveness in staking claims over the sea's islands, reefs and shoals.

Sources: Rigzone, AFP, Reuters

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

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Situation on Syrian borders deteriorates

The instability in Syria has begun to spill across the poorly demarcated southern border with Lebanon, as well as the more tightly controlled boundary with Turkey in the north. Intensification of fighting in border zones could have serious consequences.
The situation along the porous Lebanese border has been tense for some time, with reports of cross-border incursions by Syrian forces as they pursue rebels and arms smugglers into their safe havens in Lebanon. Syria has also been accused of mining the area, a serious risk given that the border is poorly demarcated.
On 9 April Syrian forces were accused of firing over the border, killing a Lebanese TV cameraman. Damascus insists that Ali Shaaban was shot dead by 'terrorist gangs' who also attacked Syrian soldiers. Although not the first death from cross-border fire, the killing of Shaaban is the most high-profile.
Lebanese opposition leader and former president Amin Gemayel said that Lebanon is now at serious risk of the conflict spilling over from Syria. Lebanese politics has become increasingly strained over the Syrian crisis.
To the north, Syrian forces are accused of shooting across the Turkish border into a camp for refugees who have fled the fighting. Allegedly pursuing rebels, Syrian gunfire wounded at least six people in the camp – including two Turks, one a policeman. The cross-border incident prompted a strong response from Ankara, with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan insisting that Turkey would “take the necessary steps” against the cross-border violation.
With fighting continuing near both the Lebanese and Turkish borders, the odds of more cross-boundary violence will increase.
Sources: BBC, Reuters, AP