China and the Philippines have agreed to exercise restraint in their two-month-long standoff over a disputed island chain in the South China Sea.
Philippine Defense Minister Voltaire Gazmin made the announcement Tuesday after meeting with his Chinese counterpart Liang Guanglie on the sidelines of a conference of Southeast Asian defense officials in Cambodia.
“The reaction of the Chinese defense minister was a welcome gesture, because I sat down with him and talked about the issues concerning both countries. And like I said, we agreed on three points — to restrain our action, to restrain our statements, so that it stops escalating, and then we continue to open lines of communication until we come up with a peaceful solution to the case.”
The dispute began in early April when Chinese surveillance vessels blocked a Philippines warship from arresting a group of Chinese fishermen near the Scarborough Shoal.
Since then, both countries have had ships stationed at the shoal. They have also engaged in a war of words, with each side accusing the other of escalating the situation.
China and the Philippines imposed temporary fishing bans in the area earlier this month, in an attempt to lessen the tension. But Manila accused Beijing last week of sending additional ships to the territory, saying some were observed breaking the fishing ban.
China says the islands, known as Huangyan in China, are a key part of Chinese territory, while the Philippines says the shoal is within its internationally recognized exclusive economic zone. China has rejected a request by the Philippines to refer the issue to an international court.
The standoff is part of a wider territorial dispute in the South China Sea, parts of which are also claimed by Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Brunei. China claims nearly the entire region, which is thought to contain large amounts of oil and natural gas.