MANILA, Philippines – China turned the tables on the Philippines Tuesday, April 17, after its embassy issued a statement blaming Philippine officials for aggravating the situation in Scarborough (Panatag) Shoal.
Zhang Hua, spokesperson of the Chinese embassy in the Philippines, made this statement days after the Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) reported Chinese activities that could contribute tension to the disputed territory.
Zhang said China has done its part in its agreement with the Philippines “not (to) do anything to complicate or aggravate the situation.” He said the Chinese fishing boats in Panatag Shoal left on April 13 to help ease the tension.
“However, the Philippine side hasn’t withdrawn its ships,” he said, noting that boats remained in Panatag Shoal as of 2 pm Monday, April 16.
Zhang also said Chinese authorities found an archaeological vessel conducting salvage archeology there – something that “infringes on China’s rights, and violates relevant international conventions.”
“These above activities by the Philippine side raised further grave concerns of the Chinese side on the situation there,” Zhang said. “In accordance with relevant international conventions and Chinese laws, it is illegal to conduct salvage activities without the permission of the Chinese government,” he said.
“We urge the archeological vessel (to) leave the area immediately,” Zhang added.
Zhang also addressed a complaint that a Chinese surveillance ship had harassed a Philippine-registered archaeological vessel with 9 French nationals onboard.
“There is, indeed, an ancient Chinese (shipwreck) in (the) Huangyan Island area, of which China has the ownership,” he said.
Zhang also defended the arrival of Chinese surveillance ships in the area, explaining that these “public service vessels” conduct legitimate law enforcement patrols in the Panatag Shoal area. He said these ships went there after the Philippines allegedly encroached on Chinese territory.
“We urge the Philippine side to withdraw all of their vessels from Huangyan Island area, and restore peace and stability there,” Zhang said.
The Philippines, for its part, has filed another diplomatic protest against China over allegations the latter deployed its ship and aircraft to harass a Philippine boat in Scarborough Shoal.
The standoff between both countries continues as more than 6,000 American and Filipino troops conduct war games in the Philippines, including in areas near the disputed areas, such as Palawan. The games began Monday, April 16.
The growing rivalry between the US and China is complicating the situation, analysts have said.
Wrote veteran China watcher Chito Sta Romana in his blog on Rappler: “As China is finding out, its stated policy of developing good-neighborly relations with Southeast Asian countries is being undercut, if not undermined, by its own efforts to increasingly assert its historical claim.”
Underlying these disputes over the South China Sea, he said, are “real concerns on marine resources,” as well as oil and gas deposits. – Rappler.com