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China's unclear territorial claims risk sea conflicts

China is deploying more surveillance and paramilitary ships to the South China Sea without a clear legal framework to assert its ambiguous territorial claims, risking more confrontations, a report said Monday.
 
The bigger patrol ships sent by Chinese maritime surveillance and fisheries agencies have figured in major flare-ups, including an ongoing standoff with a Philippine coast guard vessel over a disputed shoal off the western Philippine coast.

At the same time, the nearly a dozen government agencies handling China's claims compete for budget and power and operate with conflicting mandates and lack coordination, the International Crisis Group (ICG) said in its report.

Six countries are engaged in long-simmering territorial rifts in the South China Sea, crossed by one of the world's busiest commercial sea lanes and accounting for about 10 percent of the annual global fisheries catch.

A map China submitted to the United Nations in 2009 claims virtually the entire area, but China has so far refused to define the exact extent of its claims, causing confusion and fostering potential conflicts, the ICG said.

Some Chinese patrol ships, according to the ICG, were unaware of the limits of the areas where they were supposed to assert sovereignty.

ICG said it interviewed an official with the Maritime Safety Administration in China's southern Hainan province who said he did not know what area to defend. The official was not further identified.

China Maritime Surveillance, an agency patrolling the South China Sea, plans to increase its personnel from 9,000 to 15,000 and the number of ships from 280 to 520 by 2020, the ICG said. 

Another agency, the Fisheries Law Enforcement, plans to acquire more helicopter-carrying patrol ships. Such buildup is separate from the strengthening of China's navy, according to the Brussels-based group.

Philippine officials have asked China to bring their disputes to the United Nations for arbitration, a process that will require both to delineate their claims. But Chinese officials have insisted on negotiating with other claimants individually.

The latest confrontation erupted April 10 when a Filipino warship attempted to arrest Chinese fishermen, who were accused of illegally entering and poaching endangered species at Scarborough Shoal. Two Chinese surveillance ships prevented arrests and the fishermen slipped away.

A Philippine coast guard vessel continued to face off with Chinese maritime ships at the uninhabited, horseshoe-shaped shoal while diplomats attempted to find a solution.
The Philippines government, meanwhile, urged Sunday all Filipinos to exercise restraint amid cyber attacks on Philippines and Chinese websites linked to the ongoing standoff in the Panatag or Scarborough Shoal.

Filipino hackers reportedly retaliated and defaced Chinese government websites where they asserted the Philippines' sovereignty over the shoal in the West Philippine Sea.
The retaliation came after alleged Chinese hackers defaced the state-run University of the Philippines' website on April 20, saying the Panatag, which they called as Huangyan Island, was theirs.

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SunStar.Com.Ph | April 23, 2012 | Article Link

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