Philippines flays China anew for flaring tensions
AP MANILA THE Philippines accused China on Wednesday of sending more government and fishing vessels to a contested shoal in the South China Sea despite ongoing talks to resolve a 2-month-old naval standoff.
Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez said the number of Chinese vessels at Scarborough Shoal increased to 96 on Tuesday. They included four government ships, fishing boats and dinghies.
He said the Philippines has only two vessels in the area.
Hernandez said that despite a seasonal fishing ban imposed by both countries to prevent overfishing, Chinese vessels were observed fishing and collecting protected corals.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said about 20 fishing vessels were working in waters near the shoal, roughly the same number as in previous years.
“Their fishing activities are in line with Chinese law and the fishing ban,” he said.
He added that “the Filipino side recently carried out some provocations in the area and China took actions in response.” Hernandez said Chinese Ambassador Ma Keqing was handed a diplomatic note Monday to protest the presence on that day of 77 Chinese vessels ‚ five government ships, 16 fishing boats and 56 dinghies used to load fish or corals.
Manila demanded an immediate pullout of the vessels, saying they violate Philippine sovereignty and a nonbinding Declaration of Conduct on the South China Sea signed by China and Southeast Asian Countries.
“It is regrettable that these actions occurred at a time when China has been articulating for a de-escalation of tensions and while the two sides have been discussing how to defuse the situation in the area,” Hernandez added.
Both sides claim the uninhabited, horseshoe-shaped shoal, which is 230 kilometers (124 nautical miles) from Zambales province, the nearest Philippine coast.