MANILA, Philippines – All but one of the Chinese vessels locked in a standoff with Philippine naval forces authorities have pulled out of the Scarborough Shoal by Saturday, further dissipating tensions between China and the Philippines, authorities said.
Armed Forces of the Philippines Northern Luzon commander Lieutenant General Anthony Alcantara said that the Chinese pullout from disputed waters in the West Philippine Sea (or South China Sea) was “the result of the negotiations by our foreign department with their Chinese counterparts.”
“At 12 noon [Friday] the seven Chinese vessels, including a marine survey vessel called Zhungguo Haijan 75, left. Then at 6 or 7 p.m., the five Chinese fishing vessels left, including the Chinese fisheries law enforcement command vessel, pulled out of the site,” he said.
Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez said the departure of the Chinese boats was not part of any agreement with China and that the two countries were still trying to settle the standoff through diplomatic channels.
Only two vessels are left in the area: a Philippine Coast Guard ship, the BRP Pampanga (SARV-003), and Chinese marine vessel Number 84, Alcantara told reporters.
He added that Philippine Navy ships were restocking and refueling, including the country’s biggest warship, the BRP Gregorio Del Pilar, the first vessel that confronted the first eight Chinese fishing boats on April 10 until two Chinese surveillance maneuvered between them, preventing the Philippine authorities from arresting the Chinese fishers.
This sparked the deadlock and diplomatic impasse over the past few days.
The BRP Del Pilar later pulled out of the scene supposedly to get supplies. One by one, the Chinese also started pulling out of the area at about the same time.
Navy spokesperson, Lieutenant Colonel Omar Tonsay said in a text message that as of Saturday “PF-15 [BRP Del Pilar] is still at Poro Poro Point [in La Union] replenishing, refueling and awaiting orders.”
Alcantara said the pullout on both sides helped ease tensions. “Of course, this was [a good development] and it is our wish that this be resolved peacefully.”
But he said the Philippine military would not be complacent.
“We’re always prepared. This is not their first incursion. Our Navy and Coast Guard are always patrolling these waters to take care of our interests in these parts,” Alcantara said.
As for the illegal catch discovered in the Chinese fishing vessels, including corals and baby sharks, he said the Chinese vessels left with them.
“Apparently, as far as I know, they took it with them… I have no direct information, but it could be part of the negotiations, so that the situation will be defused in Scarborough,” he said.
The Philippines says the shoal is in its territory, well within the country’s 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone, as recognised by international law.
However China has insisted the shoal is Chinese territory as part of its claim to all of the South China Sea, even waters up to the coasts of other countries.
Aside from the Philippines and China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei also claim all or parts of the waters as their own.
The Philippines and Vietnam complained last year of increasingly aggressive acts by China in staking its claim to the South China Sea.
However this week’s standoff is the highest-profile in recent years. With a report from AFP
Originally posted: 1:25 pm | Saturday, April 14th, 2012