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DFA files 7th protest over Scarborough; China says PH's insistence on intervention worsening rift

MANILA, Philippines -- The Department of Foreign Affairs has filed its seventh diplomatic protest against China over Scarborough (Panatag) Shoal, this time over increased Chinese presence in the area, with the Philippine Coast Guard monitoring a total of 92 fishing vessels at the contested rock formation as of May 22.

The move came as China said the Philippine government’s insistence on third-party intervention to resolve the more than month-old standoff would only serve to escalate the rift between the two countries.

“The DFA expressed its grave concern over these continuing actions by China that escalate tension in Bajo de Masinloc in a note verbale dated 21 May 2012 sent to the Chinese government through the Chinese embassy in Manila,” DFA spokesman Raul Hernandez Hernandez told a press conference.

Hernandez demanded that China’s vessels “immediately pull out from Bajo de Masinloc and the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone and for China to refrain from taking further actions that exacerbate the situation in the West Philippine Sea.”

The number of Chinese ships increased to 92 from 77 the previous day, May 22, Hernandez said.

He broke these down to: five Chinese government fisheries vessels (CMS-71, CMS-84, FLEC-301, FLEC-303, and FLEC-310), 16 fishing boats (10 inside the lagoon and six outside), and 56 utility boats (27 inside the lagoon and 29 outside).

“Yesterday (Tuesday), there were still 16 Chinese fishing vessels and the number of utility boats went up to 76,” Hernandez said, adding that the “utility boats” were dinghies that help the fishing boats collect their harvest of giant clams and corals by dredging.
He said two Philippine government vessels remain in the area, while no Philippine fishing boats are there.

China earlier announced its annual summer fishing ban in the South China Sea, which Manila calls the West Philippine Sea, on May 15. The Philippines followed with a ban of its own covering Scarborough soon after.

The fishing bans were expected to lower the tension between the two countries.
Hernandez said the increased number of Chinese fishing vessels in the area “imperils the marine biodiversity in the shoal and threatens the marine ecosystem in the whole West Philippine Sea. The Philippines has documented the many instances where Chinese fishermen have unlawfully dredged the area and illegally harvested giant clams and corals.”

“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,” the DFA spokesman said.

He said these actions also violate provisions of the ASEAN-China Declaration of Conduct on the South China Sea and the United Nations Charter on disputes and territorial integrity.

He said DFA Assistant Secretary for Asia-Pacific Affairs Teresa Lazaro and Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Ma Keqing are discussing the matter while similar talks are being undertaken in Beijing.

But Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario’s statement that some countries were helping the Philippines establish a “minimum credible defense posture” by providing the country with patrol boats and military aircraft was worsening the tensions over Scarborough.

“The Philippines’ attempt to draw any third party into interfering or intervening through whatever means in the incident is bound to further escalate the situation or even change the nature of the issue, and will meet steadfast opposition from the Chinese side,” Hong said in an e-mail forwarded by the Chinese embassy in Manila.

The Scarborough standoff started on April 8 when the Philippine Navy deployed its flagship, the BRP Gregorio del Pilar, to intercept Chinese boats seen inside the lagoon of Scarborough.

Hong said the “Chinese side has been actively engaged in diplomatic consultation to urge the Philippine side to correct its wrongdoing and ease the situation, for the sake of normal growth of bilateral relations.”

He also repeated the Chinese position that the Scarborough Shoal is China’s “inherent territory.”

China admits May 21 exercise 

In a related development, the Chinese embassy here admitted that the People’s Liberation Army recently conducted a “regular training program” in the “West Pacific waters.”

Citing the Information Office of China’s Ministry of Defense, the embassy said: “The recent drill by a naval fleet of China’s People’s Liberation Army in the West Pacific waters is a regular training program included in its annual plan, not aimed at any particular country or target.”

Citing Chinese Internet reports, local media reported that China sent five warships to the waters near the Philippines.

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| May 23, 2012 | Article Link

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