MANILA, Philippines - Even as more Chinese ships were deployed to Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, China yesterday denied aggravating the situation and said it has been exercising “restraint” as its naval assets have not been sent.
Chinese embassy spokesman Zhang Hua said the Chinese ships deployed in Scarborough are for fishery administration and law enforcement. He said one surveillance ship has left the area.
“We have been very restrained up until now. One of our surveillance ships has left,” Zhang said in a text message to The STAR.
A Chinese fishery and maritime law enforcement ship – considered the most advanced in its class – arrived in the shoal 124 nautical miles off Masinloc, Zambales and linked up with another Chinese vessel that was involved in a standoff with a Philippine Coast Guard search and rescue vessel.
The newly arrived ship is the biggest so far that was deployed by China in asserting its claim to the shoal, which is well within the Philippines’ 200-mile exclusive economic zone.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) earlier said China’s action to deploy more ships aggravated the situation even after Secretary Albert del Rosario and Chinese Ambassador Ma Keqing had agreed to “no surprises order” so as not to increase the tension between the two countries.
“We did not aggravate the situation at all. First, it is China’s territory. Second, it is the Philippine Navy that pointed their guns at our fishermen. We have not sent our Navy yet, but only civilian ships,” Zhang pointed out.
Confident that the world is watching China’s behavior in the shoal, the Philippines declared on Friday it will “unilaterally” bring up the issue before the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) to resolve the territorial dispute should Beijing refuse to join Manila in submitting the claims and defending their respective positions before the United Nations-backed tribunal.
Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez said China violated the agreement with the Philippines not to undertake any action that would aggravate and escalate the situation in the shoal by deploying more vessels in addition to the two Chinese maritime vessels involved in a standoff with a lone Philippine Coast Guard ship.
Hernandez said a legal team is now preparing to proceed to ITLOS if the Philippines will get a negative answer from China when both sides meet again.
China rejected the Philippines’ invitation to go to ITLOS saying the issue should be resolved through diplomatic solution.
The Philippine side will demand an answer and explanation from China for deploying additional vessels and an aircraft and violation of the agreement.
Three foreign vessels and two small boats were spotted on Wednesday in the shoal, on the same day the Philippine-commissioned MT Sarangani left the area after conducting an archeological survey.
China maintained the Scarborough Shoal dispute should be resolved through “friendly” consultations but its actions are contrary to its declaration.
Zhang urged the Philippines not to aggravate the incident but he stressed commitment to settle the dispute through friendly consultations.
On the other hand, China’s top military newspaper warned the US on Saturday that its joint military exercises with the Philippines have fanned risks of armed confrontation over the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
The commentary in China’s Liberation Army Daily marked the harshest high-level warning yet from Beijing about tensions with the Philippines over disputed seas where both countries have recently sent ships to assert their claims.
‘Symptomatic, bullying tactic’
Sen. Panfilo Lacson said China’s assertion of almost the entire West Philippine Sea could be a move to control trade and commerce in the region.
“There is more than meets the eye here. China is into economic colonization of the eastern world,” said Lacson, chairman of the Senate committee on national defense and security.
He said the situation in the Scarborough Shoal, where China has deployed several surveillance vessels in defiance of the Philippines claim over the territory, should be seen in a wider perspective other than a dispute over territorial waters.
Lacson said China’s action in the region is “symptomatic of China’s long standing bullying tactic of Taiwan by invoking province-state relations in order to have control of the Taiwan straits.”
He stressed the Philippine government must convince not only its Asian neighbors but also its allies in the US and the West that the situation in Scarborough Shoal would also have an impact on their interests in the region as well.
“Their bigger objective could very well be to be able to control international trade and commerce by having complete control of the sea lanes where goods and other commercial products and materials pass,” Lacson added.
The Philippine government has called on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to take a collective stand on what China is doing in the region since it would affect the interests of the member-nations in the regional group.
More than the ASEAN, Lacson said it would be best for the superpowers to step in now and support the Philippines and the other concerned countries.
“If the USA and other European countries realize the far-reaching economic implications of China’s military posturing in the South China Sea, which is well within the territorial limits of the Philippines, sooner than later they may just act proactively in addressing this problem which is not just ours to solve,” Lacson said.
“In short, all these Chinese military maneuvers and deployments are not merely tactical but strategic and have to do with economic dominance of the world via the control of international trade and commerce in the whole China Sea,” he added. -Marvin Sy, Helen Flores - By Pia Lee-Brago