China fleet arrives in disputed South China Sea islands

Manila (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - A big fleet of Chinese fishing vessels arrived at the disputed Spratly Islands in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) on Sunday, Chinese state media said, amid tensions with China's neighbours over rival claims to the area.

The Philippines, locked in a territorial row with China over Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal) in the West Philippine Sea, said yesterday the Chinese fishing fleet should not cross into Philippine territory in the Spratlys.

But the Chinese fishing expedition is apparently not a show of force directed at the Philippines but at Vietnam, which claims the Paracel Islands and parts of the Spratlys where the fleet arrived on Sunday.

The fleet of 30 fishing vessels arrived near the Yongshu Reef in the afternoon after setting off on Thursday from the Chinese province of Hainan, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

Yongshu Reef is the Johnson South Reef in the Spratlys that both China and Vietnam claim. Their competing claims erupted into a naval skirmish on Mar. 14, 1988. Vietnam lost the firefight. It lost one vessel and took home another heavily damaged.

Vietnam's loss left China in effective control of the reef. China later occupied seven other reefs in the area. Today it has a maritime observation station on Johnson South Reef.

The Philippines claims parts of the Spratlys, but not Johnson South Reef.

Don't intrude

Even so, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) yetserday said that the Chinese fishing vessels "must not intrude into the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines ".

In a statement issued after news of the fleet's arrival reached Manila, the DFA asked China to "respect the sovereign rights of the Philippines to the resources " within the country's 370-kilometre exclusive economic zone.

Chinese fishing boats regularly travel to the Spratlys, a potentially oil-rich archipelago that China claims as part of its territory on historical grounds.

But the fleet is the largest ever launched from Hainan, according to the Xinhua report.

The fleet includes a 3,000-tonne supply ship, and a patrol vessel has also traveled to the area to provide protection, the report said.

The vessels will spend the next five to 10 days fishing in the area, it added.

The fleet's arrival came after China earlier Sunday extricated a naval frigate that got stranded four days earlier on Hasa-Hasa Shoal (Half Moon Shoal), part of Philippine territory in the Spratlys.

No protest

The Philippines, however, did not lodge a diplomatic protest over the incident, saying the stranding of the vessel in its exclusive economic zone was likely an accident.

"We don't believe that there were ill-intentions that accompanied the presence of that ship in our [exclusive economic zone], " Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said on Sunday.

"As far as filing a diplomatic protest is concerned, my stance is that we will probably not do that, " Del Rosario said.

But the presidential palace said yesterday that the Philippines would not call the incident an accident until after its confirmation by a foreign affairs department investigation.

Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said the government still had to receive "any reason, why, how that frigate happened to be there. "

The People's Liberation Army Missile Frigate No. 560 was on a "routine patrol, " China said, when it ran aground on Hasa-Hasa Shoal, 111 kilometres west of Palawan, in the Philippine exclusive economic zone.

The Chinese Embassy in Manila said the frigate was "refloated successfully " before daybreak on Sunday, and Del Rosario said he was informed it was already on its way back to China.

"We wish its crew a safe voyage back to China, " Del Rosario said.

No intention to leave

But Senator Gregorio Honasan, vice chairman of the Senate defence committee, said the incident was likely to happen again, as China apparently had no intention to leave the Spratlys or any other part of the West Philippine Sea where it had territorial claims.

"It would be definitely repeated, " Honasan, speaking in Filipino, told the Philippine Daily Inquirer. "The report saying their ship ran aground means they have not left the area. That is clear. "

Honasan said it was possible China was bracing for talks on joint exploration with other claimants to territory in the West Philippine Sea.

China is maintaining a constant presence in the area so as not to be left out of the discussions, Honasan said.

China has adamantly refused to bring the territorial disputes in the region to the international level, but has not rejected joint exploration with its rivals, he said.

China's endgame

"My feeling is that the endgame for China is to partake of the resources in the disputed areas, " Honasan said. "When you are negotiating, you negotiate from a position of strength. You will indicate your maximum position. "

But Honasan said he did not favor bilateral talks with China. "It's better to bring this issue to a multilateral forum, " he said.

China says it has sovereign rights to all the West Philippine Sea, believed to sit atop vast oil and gas deposits, including areas close to the coastlines of other countries and hundreds of kilometers from its own landmass.

But Taiwan, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, and the Philippines also claim parts of the South China Sea.

The Spratlys are one of the biggest island chains in the area.

Potential flash point

The rival claims have long made the West Philippine Sea one of Asia's potential military flash points, and tensions have escalated over the past year.

The Philippines and Vietnam have complained that China is becoming increasingly aggressive in its actions in the area-such as harassing fishermen-and also through bullying diplomatic tactics.

The Philippines said the latest example of this was at the annual Southeast Asian talks in Cambodia that ended on Friday in failure because of the West Philippine Sea issue.

The Philippines had wanted its fellow members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to refer in a joint statement to a standoff last month with China over Panatag Shoal.

But Cambodia, the summit's host and China's ally, blocked the move.

COPYRIGHT: ASIA NEWS NETWORK

Loading...

Editor’s note:Yahoo Philippines encourages responsible comments that add dimension to the discussion. No bashing or hate speech, please. You can express your opinion without slamming others or making derogatory remarks.

  • Lupita Nyong'o's $150,000 Oscars dress stolen from hotel
    Lupita Nyong'o's $150,000 Oscars dress stolen from hotel

    The $150,000 pearl-studded, custom-made Calvin Klein dress worn by Oscar-winning actress Lupita Nyong'o at this year's Academy Awards has been stolen, police said on Thursday. The gown, embellished with 6,000 natural white pearls, was stolen from Nyong'o's room at the London Hotel in West Hollywood, during the day on Wednesday, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department in West Hollywood said. "Ms Nyong'o was not in the room at the time of the theft," Deputy John Mitchell …

  • US-led strikes on IS after group seizes 220 Christians
    US-led strikes on IS after group seizes 220 Christians

    The US-led coalition has carried out air strikes against the Islamic State group in northeastern Syria, where the jihadists have launched a new offensive and kidnapped 220 Assyrian Christians. The raids on Thursday struck areas around the town of Tal Tamr in Hasakeh province, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, without giving information on possible casualties. The town remains under the control of Kurdish forces, but at least 10 surrounding villages have been seized by IS, along …

  • Militants abduct more Christians, smash ancient artifacts
    Militants abduct more Christians, smash ancient artifacts

    BEIRUT (AP) — Islamic State militants seized more Christians from their homes in northeastern Syria in the past three days, bringing the total number abducted by the extremist group to over 220, activists said Thursday. …

  • 3 Pinays on Forbes power women list
    3 Pinays on Forbes power women list

    Three Filipina executives, who are all daughters of known business tycoons in the country, made it to Forbes’ list of the 50 most powerful businesswomen in Asia. Teresita Sy-Coson, vice chairman of SM Investments and chairman of BDO Universal Bank, was included in the list for the fourth year in a row since its inception. “Under her (Sy-Coson) lead SMIC became the largest listed company on the Philippine Stock Exchange by market cap. Also in the 2015 list is 70-year-old Helen Yuchengco-Dee, …

  • 13 of 15 SAF survivors to leave PNP hospital
    13 of 15 SAF survivors to leave PNP hospital

    Thirteen of the 15 Special Action Force (SAF) policemen who survived the bloody firefight with Muslim rebels in Mamasapano last month are ready to go home after a month of medical treatment, a police official said yesterday. Philippine National Police (PNP) spokesman Chief Superintendent Generoso Cerbo Jr. said the two remaining survivors will have to stay in hospital for further treatment, one of whom has shrapnel embedded near his spine. One of the two SAF commando survivors is still …

  • US sends spy plane to patrol disputed sea
    US sends spy plane to patrol disputed sea

    The United States has deployed its newest and most advanced surveillance aircraft for patrols over the West Philippine Sea and South China Sea. The P-8A Poseidon aircraft completed more than 180 flight hours from Feb. 1 to 21 from Clark Air Base, according to the US Navy’s 7th Fleet. …

  • Review: SKK Mobile V2, a P3,999 watered-down LG G2
    Review: SKK Mobile V2, a P3,999 watered-down LG G2

    How well does this P3,999 offering from an underdog in the local mobile industry stack up against the competition? Let's find out. …

  • No coercion, force in sea row – France
    No coercion, force in sea row – France

    France renewed its call for a peaceful resolution of the West Philippine Sea dispute during a meeting between its leader President Francois Hollande and President Aquino at Malacañang. “We reiterated the importance of maintaining peace and stability in Southeast Asia and promoting maritime security, freedom of navigation and the peaceful settlement of disputes in accordance with international law, including UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea),” Aquino said in a statement …

POLL

Should Aquino be held accountable over the Mamasapano operations?

Loading...
Poll Choice Options