05/15/2012, 00.00
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South China Sea: Southern Airlines cuts flights to Manila, overlapping fishing bans announced

The Chinese airliner cuts are due to a major drop in reservations because of rising tensions between the two governments and a Chinese advisory against travel to the Philippines. More than half of all flights are cancelled. To save face, Manila and Beijing issue overlapping bans in disputed waters to replenish fish stocks.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) - China Southern Airlines, one of China's three main airlines, today announced flight cuts to the Philippines because of fewer travellers and the cancellation of "a large number of tourist groups". Chinese travel agencies cut package tours upon a travel safety advisory by the National Tourism Administration. Chinese authorities had already banned some products from the Philippines, especially fruit. China and the Philippines also announced overlapping fishing bans in disputed waters to save face after a month-long standoff at Scarborough Shoal (Huangyan for Beijing), found between Luzon Island and the Zhongsha Islands, in the Pacific.

China Southern, which normally operates two flights daily on the Guangzhou-Manila route, will reduce its number of flights to the Filipino capital to just one a day on certain dates from 26 May to 30 June. Almost all mainlanders on group tours will leave the Philippines by Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the governments of China and the Philippines are taking steps to reduce tensions in the Asia-Pacific region currently at the centre of a dispute over fishing and natural resources.

Face-saving overlapping fishing bans in the disputed waters came into effect in areas above latitude of 12 degrees north, with Scarborough, at 15 degrees north for 2 and half months until 1 August, ostensibly to replenish fish stocks.

The dispute between Manila and Beijing in the South China Sea took a turn for the worse on 8 April when the Filipino Navy tried to stop Chinese fishing boats that had entered the disputed waters. This led to the deployment of Chinese naval vessels to protect the boats and "national interests".

Since then, the atmosphere has been very tense and diplomatic efforts by the international community to cool things down have failed.

Among all the nations in the Asia-Pacific region involved in the dispute, China has the most extensive claims in the South China Sea. Regional hegemony would provide it with 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 in the area of its own.

In recent months, the region has seen various incidents involving Navy ships and fishing boats from countries like China, Vietnam and the Philippines, each vying for access to the same rich fishing grounds.

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