The nine-day-old naval standoff between China and the Philippines showed few signs of cooling on Thursday, with Beijing sending a powerful military vessel toward the disputed islands in the South China Sea.
Chinese media reports on Thursday quoted officials as saying that China's most advanced fishing patrol vessel, the Yuzheng 310, has been sent to protect Chinese fishermen in the region.
The standoff began early last week when Chinese surveillance ships prevented a Philippines warship from arresting several Chinese fishermen near Scarborough Shoal, an area both sides claim as sovereign territory.
Manila has requested to refer the issue to an international court, arguing the shoal is well within its internationally recognized exclusive economic zone.
On Wednesday, Beijing rejected that request, and summoned the Philippines charge' d'affaires over the issue.
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Liu Weimin said the islands, known as Huangyan in China, are an integral part of Chinese territory and that any Philippine claim to them is “completely baseless.”
“The Philippines has never questioned or opposed China's exercise of its sovereignty over and exploitation of Huangyan Island before 1997, and had expressed publicly several times that Huangyan Island was outside the Philippine territory.”
But the Philippines government disputed that assertion on Wednesday, saying it has effectively exercised jurisdiction over the shoal, which it calls Panatag, for decades.
Several of the Chinese fishermen described their experience to Chinese Central Television on Wednesday after returning to port on Hainan Island. But the official Xinhua news agency says 10 boats are still fishing in the general area of the standoff, about 230 kilometers off the northwestern Philippines.
A Philippines Coast Guard ship and a Chinese surveillance ship also remain in the area.
The Philippines, China, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei all have competing claims in the South China Sea. China claims nearly the entire sea based on a historical map. The Philippines says the shoal is part of its territory based on the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, which designates a country's exclusive economic zone as 370 kilometers from its coastline.