Philippines Sends Second Boat to Naval Standoff with China

Posted April 12th, 2012 at 3:25 am (UTC-5)
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The Philippines and China continued looking for a diplomatic solution to a naval standoff on Thursday, even as Manila sent a second vessel to disputed islands in the South China Sea.

Philippines foreign ministry spokesperson Raul Hernandez said a coast guard boat has been sent to the Scarborough Shoal, located about 230 kilometers off the northwestern Philippines.

It will join the Philippine Navy's largest vessel, the U.S.-built Gregorio del Pilar, which since Tuesday has been in a standoff with two Chinese surveillance vessels that blocked the arrest of a group of Chinese fishermen there.

Both sides say they prefer to solve the situation diplomatically, but warn that they will take further steps to protect their sovereign rights to the group of islands, which are known as Panatag in the Philippines, and as Huangyan Island in China.

Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario says his government continues to hold talks with Ma Keqing, the Chinese ambassador in Manila.

China's Communist Party-affiliated Global Times newspaper said Thursday that Beijing will continue to strive for peace and stability, but warned that it will not make “unprincipled concessions to the recklessness of other countries.” The editorial also accused the U.S. of worsening the situation by encouraging the Philippines and Vietnam to “take more risks.” It did not elaborate.

The Philippines says it first noticed the Chinese fishing boats on Sunday. When Philippine authorities confronted the fishermen on Tuesday, Manila says the two Chinese surveillance ships positioned themselves between the warship and the Chinese fishing boats, “preventing the arrest of the erring fishermen.”

China says the fishing boats were simply taking shelter near the island due to inclement weather. It said the two surveillance ships were taking action to safeguard “Chinese national maritime interests and rights.”

Tensions in the region have risen in recent years as China becomes increasingly assertive about its claims over the entire 3.5 million-square-kilometer South China Sea, which is thought to be rich in oil and gas.

There has been a series of run-ins involving fishermen, military patrols, and other vessels in the disputed waterway, parts of which are also claimed by Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.

This week's dispute between the Philippines and China is the most dangerous confrontation between the two sides in recent years, and comes just after the countries said they had been working to lower tensions over the contested territory.