China, Philippine defense chiefs discuss Spratlys

The Chinese and Philippine defense chiefs warned rival claimants Monday to avoid unilateral action and to act responsibly in the dispute over South China Sea islands, where recent spats have renewed tensions.

Chinese Defense Minister Liang Guanglie and his Philippine counterpart, Voltaire Gazmin, acknowledged in a joint statement the need to ensure that the South China Sea remains stable.

Liang's four-day visit comes amid renewed tensions in the disputed Spratly Islands, which are contested by China, the Philippines and four other nations. Washington has expressed concerns that the disputes could hamper access to one of the world's busiest commercial sea lanes.

"Unilateral actions which could cause alarm should be avoided," the defense ministers said in the statement.

Gazmin said they discussed the May 11 sighting of two unidentified foreign fighter jets near an island occupied by Filipino troops. Two Philippine patrol planes failed to identify the jets, which made no hostile moves.

Liang, according to Gazmin, mentioned that Philippine media accounts identified the two aircraft as Russian-made MIG fighter jets and clarified that China has no MIG planes in its air force.

The discussions did not touch on a March 2 incident in which the Philippine government accused two Chinese patrol boats of harassing a Filipino oil exploration ship into leaving a vast area called the Reed Bank. A Filipino general scrambled two military aircraft, which arrived at the scene after the Chinese vessels had left, the Philippine military said.

Filipino officials say the Reed Bank, which lies off the western Philippine province of Palawan, is not a disputed territory. China countered by saying that it has jurisdiction over the Spratlys and adjacent waters.

Gazmin said he and Liang agreed that any conflict "should be settled amicably by opening the lines of communication, dialogues and sitting down and talking to each other."

Liang discussed the dispute in a meeting with President Benigno Aquino III later Monday.

Although they did not discuss the recent altercations in detail, both agreed that there should be more dialogue to safeguard diplomatic relations among nations with claims to the Spratlys, presidential spokesman Ricky Carandang said.

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Associated Press writer Teresa Cerojano in Manila contributed to this report.

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