Philippines Pull Out of South China Sea

Despite President Obama’s recent expression of support for the Philippines in the South China Sea dispute, the Philippines have called back their ships from the disputed shoal due to bad weather conditions. From AFP:

Aquino ordered a coast guard patrol vessel and a fisheries bureau survey ship out of Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea on Friday night, Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said.

“Last night, President Aquino ordered both of our ships to return to port due to increasing bad weather,” del Rosario said in a statement.

“When weather improves, a re-evaluation will be made,” he added.

China claims nearly all of the South China Sea, even waters close to the coasts of neighbouring countries. The Philippines and Vietnam have in recent years accused China of becoming increasingly aggressive in staking its claim.

As the Philippines removed their vessels, there are claims that China continues to have ships in the disputed area. Reuters adds:

Lightly armed Philippine coast guard ships had since April taken turns to escort a civilian fisheries boat guarding the mouth of Scarborough Shoal, a group of rock formations about 124 nautical miles west of the Philippines’ main island of Luzon.

At one time, China had nearly 100 civilian surveillance ships, fishing vessels and smaller utility boats in the area, raising tension in the South China Sea, threatening trade, tourism and political relations between the two sides.

On Friday, the Philippines said China still had 26 ships and fishing boats in Scarborough against the two from the Philippines – one a coast guard vessel and the other a fishing boat.

The Philippines are now waiting for China to remove their ships as well. From the Washington Post:

He says they have not decided whether to send the ships back to the area after the weather clears.

Del Rosario said Friday that Manila is waiting for Beijing to meet its commitment to remove about 20 vessels that are within the shoal’s lagoon after the only Philippine ship there left this week.

However, according to the Global Times, the Foreign Ministry has announced that Chinese activities will continue as normal:

Philippine ships have been facing off with Chinese vessels since April 10, when Chinese maritime surveillance ships blocked the Philippine Navy from arresting Chinese fishermen near the island.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said Thursday that Chinese fishing boats are currently carrying out “normal fishing” in Huangyan Island waters in the South China Sea, and that “Chinese government vessels will continue to provide management and services for its fishing ships and fishermen.” “The general situation is tending to ease. China hopes the Philippines will not take moves that will complicate and magnify the situation,” said Liu.

While both countries have agreed to show restraint in the region, Manila requested that the United States help monitor the Scarborough Shoals. The Telegraph reports:

The Philippines has requested radar, patrol aircraft and naval vessels as it seeks to bolster its position in a row with China over the Scarborough Shoal, which lies near the main Philippine island of Luzon.

Plans to help Manila reflect Washington’s strategic shift towards Asia amid a growing rivalry with Beijing, with the South China Sea at the centre of the contest, analysts said.

“Land-based radar is one of the practical ways the United States can simultaneously boost Philippine defence capabilities and signal Washington’s long-term commitment to Asia,” said Patrick Cronin, senior adviser for Asia at the Center for a New American Security, a Washington think tank.

China may choose to defuse tensions with the Philippines just before a gathering of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations next month, Cronin said.