Landsat 7 image of Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea
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The Philippines and China have agreed to diplomatically solve the ongoing naval standoff in the West Philippine Sea even as both countries insist that the disputed Scarborough shoal is part of their respective territories.
SCS ENC (from East Asia Hydrographic Commission)
According to an Associated Press report, Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario and Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Ma Keqing have “resolved to seek a diplomatic solution to the issue”.
Philippine President Benigno Aquino III also expressed his belief that the impasse will be resolved without violence.
“China has said let us resolve it through consideration of the international laws that govern such situations. And they agree that UNCLOS is part of that.
We are both signatories to UNCLOS. No one will benefit if violence erupts there.
So we are hoping that [resolution] will happen,” Aquino was quoted in a Rappler article.
The president, however, said that the Philippines will assert its sovereignty over its territories.
“What's important is to protect our sovereignty. We cannot just give it away. And we have no one to rely on, of course, but ourselves. Given this, we talked with all those concerned–the Armed Forces and even the Coast Guard–so that the so-called 'Rules of Engagement' will be clear, to ensure that there would be no eruption of violence,” he said.
The naval standoff began on Tuesday when a Philippine Navy team inspected Chinese fishing boats in the Scarborough shoal (known in the Philippines as Panatag) and found illegally collected corals, giant clams and live sharks in one vessel.
Two Chinese surveillance ships, identified as Zhonggou Haijian 75 and Zhonggou Haijian 84, blocked the Philippine Navy's BRP Gregorio Del Pilar from approaching the fishing boats and arresting the fishermen.
The Philippines and China have since filed diplomatic protests over the alleged intrusion of the other party in their respective territories.
According to a China Daily report, Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said that the attempt at “law enforcement” by the Philippines in the waters of Scarborough shoal (known in China as Huangyan Island) “infringed China's sovereignty.”
“We made solemn representations to Manila on the Philippine warship and surveillance vessels harassing China's fishing boats and fishermen in a lagoon in China's Huangyan Island in the South China Sea," Liu said.
The report added that the Chinese fishermen who sheltered in the area because of bad weather were harassed by the Philippine sailors who boarded and inspected their ships.
China called on Manila "not to instigate new troubles and incidents, and make joint efforts with the Chinese side to create favorable conditions for the sound development of relations between the two countries."
East Indies 1801 shows present day Southeast Asia, Indonesia and the Philippines
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The Scarborough shoal, which is claimed by the Philippines, China and Taiwan, is one of the many territories in the West Philippine Sea that is disputed by several countries.
It lies 124 nautical miles west of Luzon and is considered by the Philippines as part of Zambales province.
In China, the area is administered from the Hainan province.
The shoal, which is believed to be sitting on top of vast mineral and oil reserves, is regularly patrolled by Chinese and Philippine vessels. In the past, scientific expeditions were also conducted in some of the islands and reefs.
The area is not a part of the more popular Spratlys archipelago, which is claimed as a whole by China, Vietnam and Taiwan, and in part by the Philippines, Brunei and Malaysia.
The Philippine claims the Spratlys is considered a part of the Palawan province.
The Philippines justifies its claims with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) which states that any territory has special rights to over exploration and utilization of any marine resource provided that it is within 200 nautical miles from the territory's coast.
China, meanwhile, uses a “nine-dotted line” map to annex almost all territories in the region to their country.
The Chinese justifies their claim using historical documents which shows that they have governed the region ever since the establishment of the Qin and Han dynasties several centuries ago.
The incident came a few days after announcement of planned “fun games” between Vietnam and the Philippines in the Spratlys.
Recently during the meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) leaders in Cambodia, Aquino renewed his government's offer to hold a Spratlys summit in Manila.
Over the past year, the tension in the region has intensified following reports that the Chinese government will use its military dominance to bully other countries that have claims in the West Philippine Sea territories.
The Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines has since denied that they intend to use their military force in the territorial disputes in the region.
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