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Philippines, China resume talks over disputed shoal

MANILA -- The Philippines and China have resumed negotiations in Manila to ease the escalating maritime tension over the Scarborough shoal, a Foreign Affairs official said.

"We're continuing the talks. We are working to diffuse the situation," Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said in a chance interview at the European Union Day reception in Makati City.

The last known negotiations in Manila took place on April 16, although China has met the Philippine chargé d’affaires a number of times in Beijing to reiterate their demand for a Philippine withdrawal from the shoal.

Since then, China has increased its presence in the lagoon, with three surveillance ships, seven fishing boats and 23 utility boats, as against the Philippine Coast Guard's BRP Edsa, a vessel from the aquatic fisheries bureau, and fishing boats. 

The standoff has been going on since April 8.

On May 7, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Fu Ying said in Beijing that her country was prepared to deal with an escalation of the conflict at the shoal, as she accused the Philippines of provocation by sending more ships to Scarborough, which China calls Huangyan Island.

But del Rosario said that while bilateral consultations with Chinese Ambassador Ma Keqing will continue, the Philippines will still proceed with bringing the dispute to the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea (Itlos) to legally settle the impasse, despite China’s objections.

In the same occasion, Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez added that going to an international arbitration forum such as the Itlos aimed at having a "permanent and durable solution to the issue in the West Philippine Sea."

Meanwhile, del Rosario echoed the denial of Malacañang and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) that Filipino fishermen are being denied access by Chinese ships in the area.

"No, that's not true," he told reporters.

Masinloc Mayor Desiree Edora of Zambales earlier received complaints from Filipino fishermen that Chinese government ships standing guard at the mouth of the shoal are driving them away. 

Edora said the fishermen, fearing for their safety, have ended up fishing outside the lagoon.

'Peaceful' anti-China protests

In a separate interview Thursday night, del Rosario said the anti-China protests to be staged by Filipinos here and abroad on Friday is a peaceful, democratic exercise and is a purely private sector initiative.

"They are out to exercise their right to freedom of expression. This is a private undertaking. We have nothing to do with this," he said, noting that even Chinese groups have launched similar actions against the Philippines abroad.

Del Rosario said that when he was in New York last week for an official trip, Chinese groups staged a demonstration in front of the Philippine Consulate there for three days in a row.
"So it's a way to express yourself. The Chinese have used it and our own civil society here is also using it. We’re trying to get word out there if we can and we’re sure that these demonstrations are peaceful,” he added.

The Chinese embassy in Makati has posted a notice in its website advising their citizens to take precaution and to stay off the road in view of the protest rally, where some 1,000 people are expected to join, including former President Ramos and international singer-actress Lea Salonga.

Both nations claim ownership to the shoal, located 124 nautical miles from Zambales province and 472 nautical miles from China’s nearest landmass in Hainan province.

Manila also said Scarborough is well within its 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone and extended continental shelf as outlined by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, of which both countries are signatories.

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SunStar.Com.Ph | May 10, 2012 | Article Link

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