MANILA, Philippines—Defense Chief Voltaire Gazmin on Friday said China had maintained its presence in the Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal in the West Philippine Sea a year after the standoff between the Philippine Navy and Chinese vessels.
Gazmin said that two Chinese Maritime Surveillance (CMS) vessels and a Fisheries Law Enforcement Command (FLEC) vessel had remained in the area.
“They are there but we don’t want the problem to escalate. We have done our part by submitting this to an international court of arbitration. We want a peaceful resolution of the case,” he said.
Gazmin, however, said the Philippine government continues to monitor the area through the military’s naval and air assets.
On Thursday, an Australian defense and security expert said that China was likely to increase its presence in the area to assert its jurisdiction over it.
“I don’t think it is the riches that some portray it to be. It is a sovereignty issue,” Russell Smith, director of defense and security in the Asia Pacific of IHS, a US-based critical information provider, told reporters.
IHS is the publisher of Jane’s Defense Weekly, a popular military-related magazine that provides security and defense intelligence and analysis, among others.
“I can see the Chinese increasing their patrol activity. I know the Chinese marine surveillance vessels were operating last week,” Smith said.
“I will say to you that I would anticipate that the Chinese maritime surveillance vessels, patrol activity would be increasing in that region and through the West Philippine Sea in the months ahead,” he added.
In April last year, Chinese vessels and a Philippine Navy ship, which was later replaced by a Coast Guard ship, figured in a standoff as China asserted its claim over the Panatag Shoal, triggering tension in the area as the number of Chinese vessels ballooned to nearly a hundred.
The Philippines said that Panatag Shoal was an integral part of the Philippine territory.
Citing information provided to him by an analyst of the Energy and Business Group of IHS, Smith said that oil exploration in the disputed shoal was actually not economically viable.
“There’s no oil and gas in Scarborough Shoal. According to our analyst, if there’s anything about the area, it’s not fighting over oil and gas…Majority of the oil and gas out of the South China Sea (or the West Philippine Sea), has already been discovered,” Smith said.
“It is not economically viable to extract. It is too deep. We don’t think there is anything significant out there anymore,” Smith added.