Manila (AsiaNews/ Agencies) - Despites appeals by Manila, tensions between
the Philippines and China are rising over the South China Sea as China sends
another patrol vessel to the Scarborough Shoal, 220 km from Luzon (Philippines),
which both Beijing and Manila claim for its wealth of natural resources. In their
response, Filipino authorities have accused the Chinese of seeking a military escalation
Today Filipino Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez said that his
government is prepared to go to the International Tribunal on the Law of the
Seas (ITLOS) for redress. "If China will not go with us to ITLOS, our legal
team will go to ITLOS unilaterally," he said.
On 8 April, the BRP Gregorio del Pilar, the Filipino Navy's largest and
newest ship, proceeded to the area to stop eight Chinese fishing boats, carrying
corals, giant clams and live sharks as well as other endangered marine species,
taken off the Scarborough Shoal, which the Chinese call Huangyan Island.
In response, China sent two maritime surveillance vessels to prevent the
Gregorio del Pilar from stopping its fishing boats. This sparked a diplomatic
row between the two nations.
Since 10 April the Filipino naval vessel, the two Chinese surveillance
ships and the eight fishing boats have been at a standoff near the shoal.
Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCOS), the
dispute island is within the Philippines's recognised 370-kilometer Exclusive
Economic Zone in which it can exercise special rights over the exploration and
use of marine resources (fishing and mining).
Among all the nations in the Asia-Pacific region involved in the
dispute, China has the most extensive claims in the South China Sea.
Exerting hegemonic control over the area would give Beijing a major
strategic advantage in terms of trade and access to oil and natural gas.
Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan are opposed to
China's expansionism, and can rely on the support of the United States, which
has major strategic interests of its own in the area.
Vietnam and Philippines have complained about China's growing
aggressiveness. During the last ASEAN summit on 3 April in Phnom Penh (Cambodia),
Filipino President Benigno Aquino suggested that the
ten-nation association "maintain a common stance" vis-à-vis China,
which favours instead bilateral deals with the various stakeholders to take
advantage of its greater economic and military power.
On Monday, the Philippines and the United States began 12 days of joint
naval exercises. China slammed the move, criticising
Manila for trying to exert its control in the South China Sea, proof of its "Cold War mentality".