Beijing Eases Tensions with Manila

As the Philippines removes their ships from the disputed Scarborough shoal, China has  welcomed their withdrawal. The BBC reports:

China has welcomed the Philippines’ decision to pull out from a disputed part of the South China Sea, saying it hopes that this will ease tensions.

“The Chinese side has been urging the Philippine side to take measures to de-escalate the situation,” Chinese embassy spokesman, Zhang Hua, was quoted by local media as saying.

“We have noticed the withdrawal of government vessels by the Philippine side, and hope this action will help ease the tension.”

Initially, China  had kept their ships in the shoal, but due to weather conditions they had to withdraw their ships as well. The Wall Street Journal adds:

Inclement weather appears to have achieved what diplomacy couldn’t in the South China Sea as Beijing announced it was withdrawing its fishing vessels from the disputed Scarborough Shoal due to storms and rough seas, following a similar announcement by Manila over the weekend.

Nonetheless, Beijing indicated its ships could soon return to Scarborough, known as Huangyan Island in China. Neither side appeared to be budging on the underlying issue of how to resolve the dispute over the resource-rich area, analysts said.
Deeper concerns regarding territorial disputes in the South China Sea remain unresolved. The sea is thought to hold vast oil and gas reserves, and includes some of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. In addition to China and the Philippines, Other South China Sea claimants include Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei and Taiwan.

Despite both countries pulling their ships from the South China Sea, there seemed to be continuing tensions due to the territorial dispute over the shoal.  Amid this dispute, Beijing has expressed interest in easing tensions with Manila. According to the New York Times:

The underlying antagonism between China and the Philippines over disputed islands in the South China Sea remained unresolved, but diplomats said they hoped the absence of the vessels would lead to a cooling-off period.

“We hope there will continue to be an easing in the situation, and hope bilateral cooperation will recover and be safeguarded,” a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Hong Lei, said Monday at a regular news briefing.

It was expected that China would follow suit, Philippine officials said, in what appeared to be a carefully choreographed withdrawal. “When weather improves, a re-evaluation will be made,” said Albert del Rosario, the Philippine foreign secretary.

At the core of the dispute are sovereignty claims by the Philippines and China, highlighting increasing concerns about the freedom of navigation and territorial rights in one of the world’s busiest waterways. Complicating the situation is a 1951 mutual defense treatybetween the United States and the Philippines that Manila interprets as meaning that Washington would defend the Philippines in case of any conflict.

Read more about the conflict in the South China Sea, via CDT.