Chinese team calls off Philippine 'friendly' games

A Chinese basketball team has called off friendly games in the Philippines amid a tense territorial dispute between the two countries, a sports official organising the events said Thursday.

The Shanghai Sharks, who were scheduled to play two games in Manila this month, asked for an indefinite postponement, saying the players' passports were not ready, said Michelle Balunan from the Philippine Sports Commission.

"We received an e-mail from the vice general manager of Shanghai Sharks, Mr. Andy Qian. They requested for the postponement of the event to a later date," said Balunan, a senior aide of the commission's chief.

Qian's message said the games, against a local professional team and an all-star line-up, had to be suspended because the Chinese side did not have time to obtain passports before the June 26-July 1 visit, Balunan said.

However Balunan said the commission was "surprised" by Qian's reason since the Shanghai Sharks players had more than enough time to get the proper papers.

She also said the Shanghai Sharks, who are partly owned by Chinese basketball superstar Yao Ming, did not give any indication as to when or if the games would be rescheduled.

A spokesman for the Shanghai Sharks, Zhang Chi, confirmed the cancellation citing other commitments.

"When we received the formal invitation from the Philippines, both Yao Ming and the team already had other arrangements," he told AFP, adding there was not enough time to prepare.

The team would maintain contact with the Philippine side about possibly rescheduling, Zhang said, but declined further comment.

The Chinese and Philippine governments decided to organise the games in November last year to promote sports exchanges between the two countries.

But bilateral relations began plummeting in April at the start of a maritime standoff over a shoal in the South China Sea that both countries claim as their own.

The dispute began after Chinese government vessels blocked Philippine ships from arresting Chinese fishermen at the disputed area.

Since then, both countries have maintained ships at the shoal to press their respective claims to the area.

Chinese authorities have since impounded Philippine bananas and warned tourists not to come to the Philippines in moves seen by local analysts as pressure tactics.

China claims nearly all of the South China Sea, even waters close to the coasts of neighbouring countries. The Philippines and Vietnam have in recent years accused China of becoming increasingly aggressive in staking its claim.

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