Monday, April 16, 2012

Chinese/Philippine Standoff

Coverage of this has been very low-key in the media, but China and the Philippines have had a brief naval standoff over fishing grounds near the Philippines.

Last Thursday, Fox News reported:
The standoff in the South China Sea between the naval forces of the Philippines and China is in danger of escalating, as the U.S. continues to watch anxiously.

China has now sent a third ship to support its claim to the area known as Scarborough Shoal off the northwestern Philippines.

Philippine warships attempting to arrest the crews of a Chinese fishing fleet that had entered the territory sparked the latest dispute between the two Asian countries.

They were stopped from doing so by the arrival of two Chinese surveillance ships, which then ordered the Philippine warships to leave the area.

They refused arguing that its Philippine territory and have since sent a second warship to the area.

"We're not retreating from our own territory," Alexander Pama, Chief Vice Admiral of the Philippine navy said.

China also claims the rich fishing ground as its own despite it being within 200 nautical miles of the Philippines.
On Friday, there was this story from the Associated Press:
Three of eight Chinese fishing boats at the center of a standoff between China and the Philippines have left a shoal in the disputed South China Sea, officials said Friday.

But the standoff continues, with two other Chinese surveillance ships and a Philippine coast guard vessel remaining in the area, said Gen. Jessie Dellosa, the Philippine armed forces chief.

The standoff began Tuesday when Chinese ships prevented the Philippine navy from detaining Chinese fishermen who were allegedly caught poaching at the Scarborough Shoal off the northwestern Philippines.
The article also had more information on the history of conflicts over the area, including Chinese harassment of Vietnamese fishermen.

Today, the New York Times reports:
Against a backdrop of tension between Manila and Beijing, the Philippines and the United States began joint military exercises on Monday that will include mock beach invasions along coastlines facing China.

The exercises are taking place as a maritime standoff between China and the Philippines continues in the Scarborough Shoal, a disputed string of rock outcroppings 124 nautical miles west of Luzon Island in the northern Philippines.

Philippine officials stressed repeatedly that the military exercises, in the southwestern island province of Palawan and around Luzon, were not linked to the Scarborough Shoal standoff and not meant to provoke China.

The military exercises were planned “way, way ahead” of the current situation in the Scarborough Shoal, President Benigno S. Aquino III said Monday.

At the opening ceremonies of the exercises, the chief of staff of the Philippine armed forces, Lt. Gen. Jessie D. Dellosa, said regional concerns were being addressed by strengthening the military alliance with the United States.

“The conduct of this annual event reflects the aspirations to further relations with our strategic ally, a commitment that has to be nurtured especially in the context of the evolving challenges in the region,” General Dellosa said.

The standoff at the Scarborough Shoal began April 8 when Philippine surveillance aircraft spotted Chinese fishing boats near the shoal, which both China and the Philippines claim.

The Philippine Navy sent a 378-foot patrol frigate, its largest warship, to search the fishing vessels. On Tuesday, two Chinese ships took positions blocking the Philippine Navy vessel’s access to the fishing boats.

On Wednesday, the Philippines pulled out the warship and replaced it with a smaller coast guard vessel. The Chinese fishing boats were allowed to leave the area with their catch, which the Philippines contends was illegally obtained. China also reduced its presence on the shoal to a single ship.

In an effort to defuse the situation, both countries rescinded diplomatic protests regarding the episode.

After tensions calmed down, Philippine officials accused China of sending another ship to the shoal, of making intimidating flybys of the lone vessel from the Philippines and of harassing another Philippine research ship in the area.

A Philippine Coast Guard official told reporters on Monday afternoon that the situation at the shoal was “stable,” with two Chinese ships and a Philippine search-and-rescue vessel there.
More coverage from the Voice of America and Reuters. The Reuters story notes that the showdown has not been in the best interests if either China or the Philippines:
Richard Jacobson, of security consultancy Pacific Strategies and Assessments, said China's only accomplishment in the dispute was to reinforce its image as a bully.

"I guess you can argue that it was an embarrassment for the Philippines," Jacobson said. "It really underscores their lack of capacity to enforce their maritime enforcement issues."

Aileen Baviera, of the Asian Centre at the University of the Philippines, said China's actions were being shaped by the active U.S. interest in the region and the close Philippine-U.S. maritime security cooperation.

Twenty years after voting to remove the American bases, the Philippines wants to give U.S. troops more access to its ports and airfields to deter China's growing assertiveness.
Strangely, the China Daily reports that there is a Philippine vessel in the contested area conducting an archaeological recovery.

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