05/10/2012, 00.00
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South China Sea: trade war between Beijing and Manila over disputed islands

Chinese tour operators have "indefinitely" suspended trips to the Philippines. Tighter controls on food imports, particularly fruit. Manila says, the U.S. prepared to "protect" the nation. Meanwhile, a state television reporter in Beijing says the Philippines' belong to China. "

Beijing (AsiaNews / Agencies) - China has ordered the suspension of some tours to the Philippines and increased controls on imports of food, particularly fruit: the clash between Beijing and Manila, over disputed territories in the South China Sea , is turning into a real trade war, after weeks of bitter controversy. A journalist from the Chinese state television during a news bulletin even arrived at saying that "the Philippines are in full territorial sovereignty of China" (see the video on YouTube, at 1.35). It was a glaring gaffe that sparked laughter from the web because the presenter confused the whole archipelago with the Scarborough Shoal (Huangyan according to Beijing), a group of atolls located between the island of Luzon and the islands Zhongsha, for weeks at the center of a dispute between the two Asia Pacific countries. China's internet users have called him "a true patriot", Jia He apologized through his blog for the error, but there were no official positions, or retractions from CCTV bosses.

In recent days, the tourist office in Shanghai has ordered the "indefinite" suspension of travel to the Philippines. A similar measure was taken by Ctrip.com, the national on-line agency citing "security reasons" behind the decision. Also for safety reasons, the Chinese Embassy in Manila has issued a warning to their fellow citizens, over possible anti-Chinese demonstrations and protests. The Agency for the control and food safety in Beijing has ordered strict controls on imported fruit from the Philippines, in particular with regard to bananas and pineapples.

However, the decision should not have a major impact on the economy because Philippine tourism from China is 9% of the total, while exports of agricultural products does not exceed 12%. In any case, the commercial battle is just the latest step in a war in which so far not a single shot has been fired, but that could have serious repercussions on the regional balance. In response to Beijing's warnings and vitriolic editorials of newspapers in China, the Philippine government announced that the U.S. is ready to "protect" the nation in case of attacks in the South China Sea. But the spokesman of President Benin Aquino would also like to point out that "Manila has no interest in the food supply".

The clashes between Manila and Beijing in the South China Sea has been exacerbated since April 8, when the Philippine Navy tried to block Chinese vessels that had crossed the boundary that marks the portion of the sea that is the center of contention. Hence the intervention of Chinese warships, to protect the vessels and national "interests". Since then, there is a climate of tension in the area and diplomatic efforts put in place by the international community have been to no avail.

Among the nations of the Asia-Pacific region, China is advancing major maritime claims in the South China Sea. The area is of strategic importance for trade and exploitation of oil and natural gas, which is abundant in the subsoil. Competing with the expansionist ambitions of Beijing are Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia, the Sultanate of Brunei and Taiwan, coupled with U.S. strategic interests in the area. In the area in recent months there have been several "incidents" between naval vessels or boats fishing - in an area characterized by a thriving fish - flying the flags of Beijing, Hanoi and Manila.


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