Friday, June 17, 2011

China deploys ship to disputed islands

By Cris O. Odronia
Manila times, Friday, June 17,2011

BEIJING: China on Thursday said that it had sent a maritime patrol vessel to disputed islands and surrounding waters of the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) but insisted that it remains committed to peace in the region despite tensions with its neighbors.

Beijing had pledged that it would not resort to force to resolve lingering maritime territorial rows over the contested islands and waters, after the Philippines this week sought help from the United States and Vietnam staged live-fire military exercises in contrasting moves to assert their claims to the territories.

“On June 15, the . . . ship from the Maritime Safety Administration of Guangdong left for Singapore for a regular visit,” foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei told journalists.

“China has been committed to resolve disputes over the South China Sea through direct negotiations with the parties concerned . . . we also remain committed to maintain peace and stability of the South China Sea,” Hong said.

State press said that the Haixun 31, China’s largest maritime patrol ship, is outfitted with a helicopter and capable of staying at sea for up to 40 days.

In order to get to Singapore, the vessel must traverse the South China Sea, which is home to two potentially oil-rich archipelagos, the Paracels and Spratlys.

China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Brunei Darussalam and Malaysia have competing claims to the Spratlys.

Beijing and Hanoi are at odds over the Paracels.

The area has commercial shipping lanes that are vital for global trade.

Tensions between China and other rival claimants escalated in recent weeks, with the Philippines and Vietnam in particular expressing alarm at what they say are increasingly aggressive actions by China in the disputed islands and waters.

A day before Beijing deployed the Haixun 31 to the West Philippine Sea, Manila announced that it had removed foreign markers in the Spratlys in an apparent muscle-flexing of its own.

The Philippine Navy on Wednesday said that it took out the markers, whose ownerships it did not establish, in May this year.

On Thursday, it called the removal of the markers a form of active defense on the part of the Philippines.

Rear Admiral Alexander Pama, Navy flag officer-in-command, said that they have responsibilities to protect the country’s 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone.

The Philippine Navy, together with the Philippine Coast Guard, according to Pama, would continue patrolling the contested islands round the clock.

Also on Thursday, Malacanang said that it was “premature” to discuss a proposal for joint exploration of the disputed Spratlys made by former Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr.

“Ultimately, what we do want to see is a way that the resources in the disputed areas can be jointly explored and jointly exploited by the different claimants. But it’s far ahead into the future,” Secretary Ricky Carandang of the Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office said.

Carandang added that Manila was preparing reports of alleged recent incursions into the West Philippine Sea by the Chinese Navy.

The secretary said that the reports would be submitted to the United Nations.

Instead of pushing for joint exploration with other claimants to the Spratly Islands, the Philippines should remain vigilant of China’s actionson the disputed territories in the West Philippine Sea, a lawmaker said also on Thursday.

“We should keep our guard up in spite of the conciliatory tone of the latest China sentiment on the Spratlys. Three or four years . . . in 1998 to 1999, we woke up to discover full-blown concrete military structures and facilities (in the territories),” Rep. Roilo Golez of ParaƱaque City (Metro Manila) pointed out.

Manila, Golez said, should raise China’s previous aggressions before the Association of Southeast Asian Nations; United Nations; United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization; and International Monetary Fund.

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