Tuesday, April 24, 2012

7 Chinese ships still in Scarborough area, says military commander

CAMP AQUINO, Tarlac City, Philippines—The leader of the military’s Northern Luzon Command has belied China’s claim it had withdrawn most of its vessels in the Panatag Shoal.

Nolcom chief Lieutenant General Anthony Alcantara said the Chinese embassy was “not telling the truth” when it said that only one Chinese Maritime Surveillance Ship remained at Panatag—called Huangyan Island by China—for its “law enforcement missions.”

In a briefing for defense reporters here, Alcantara said at least seven Chinese vessels remained in the vicinity of the contested shoal, known internationally as Scarborough Shoal, including two small fishing boats anchored on the lagoon and three other fishing vessels off the sandbar.

Alcantara said two Chinese maritime ships, the FLEC 310, a gunboat which the Chinese insisted was just a fishery administration vessel, and one of three Chinese Maritime Surveillance Ships, or CMS 71, were  sighted in the Panatag waters as of 8 p.m. Monday.

Two more surveillance ships, the CMS 84 and 75, have not been spotted since disappearing over the weekend but were believed to just be replenishing provisions and refueling somewhere in the Chinese mainland, he added.

The presence of the ships, according to Alcantara, belied a statement from the Chinese embassy on Monday afternoon that only one surveillance ship remained in the area, and that the two others had been recalled.

In a statement sent by e-mail to reporters at 6:13 p.m. on Monday, Chinese embassy spokesperson Zhang Hua said only one Chinese Maritime Surveillance Ship remained at Panatag.

“The withdrawal of the two ships proves once again China is not escalating the situation as some people said, but de-escalating the situation,” Zhang said.

But Alcantara said one of the Chinese surveillance vessels, the CMS 71, was about 12 nautical miles southeast of the Philippine Coast Guard ship BRP Pampanga, which was standing watch over Panatag, while the FLEC 310, also called Yuzheng 310, was about eight nautical miles southeast of the shoal.

On the other hand, on the Philippine side, only a Coast Guard ship, the BRP Pampanga, and a Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources ship, the MCS3006, which arrived on Monday, are in the Panatag waters to stand guard, he said.

“Right now the situation in the area is stable. There is no untoward incident right now. What we’re taking care of and what were watching out for is our Philippine fishermen,” Alcantara said, deflecting questions on whether there was still a “standoff.”

“Because of diplomatic talks in progress, we’re avoiding any untoward incident. There’s a standstill but I think they have stopped taking corals and the like. Those things have stopped. What’s going on is normal fishing (by the Chinese) in the area,” for their food, he said.

“We also challenge some of them from time to time,” Alcantara said but did not elaborate.

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