Philippines hits back at China’s maritime showdown

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines said Monday it would not give in to Chinese demands that it remove a surveillance ship from a disputed shoal in the South China Sea, rejecting a new taunt by Beijing that the Philippines would lose the remote waters if it did not comply.

The Philippines initially refused to accept that it has any sovereignty claim to the shoal, which is sometimes called Subic Bay but more commonly known in the Philippines as the Reed Bank, and would therefore take the inadmissibility of Chinese demands that it remove the vessel as part of its normal operations, said Philippine foreign ministry spokesman Charles Jose.

The Chinese military outpost known as the Xisha isle, and a version of a Russian research vessel that is actually a Chinese Coast Guard vessel, had been operating in the shoal for more than two months, Chinese officials said in August. The official Chinese news agency Xinhua reported last month that both vessels had gone home, but Philippine officials and some Western experts said that the Chinese had put in a new fleet of inspection vessels around the shoal.

When one of those was spotted by a Philippine air force C-130 jet Monday, officials here retaliated by sending a navy vessel to the shoal to prevent it from entering Chinese waters, Mr. Jose said.

In a statement, the Chinese Foreign Ministry called it a “historic provocation” of a port inspection operation and urged the Philippines to immediately withdraw the vessel.

Mr. Jose said that Manila would not back down from its view that the shoal is part of Philippine waters, but he would not comment on whether the Philippines had contingency plans for events like naval or air battle.

The quarrel over the Chinese outpost at Reed Bank is a reminder of the potential flashpoint that has erupted in several flashpoints of maritime disputes since international arbitration proceedings were launched in May by an international panel based in The Hague.

The maritime disputes – over disputed islands, reefs and vast energy reserves, including man-made islands in the South China Sea – are among the most sensitive issues in a region where economic ties are often more important than cultural ties and the territorial disputes can jeopardize trade and security.

The region is also on the cusp of major changes, with an opening up to greater international investment, and an end to self-imposed financial and travel restrictions imposed by some of the longtime communist and Muslim leaders in the region.

The areas that concern some of the neighboring countries are the subsurface waters below the sea level, known as basins, where China claims nearly all of the South China Sea, as does the Philippines. China has no need for undersea drilling and sits on hundreds of billions of dollars in undiscovered oil and gas deposits.

Chinese officials, including in Beijing, said Monday that tensions over the shoal were less important than the international tribunal which is due to hand down its judgment.

Leave a Comment