Navy Warship Sprung From SCS Reef

The Chinese navy has successfully freed a warship which had run aground on a disputed South China Sea shoal near the Philippines, according to The Associated Press:

The warship will sail back to port with minor damage, and no crew member was injured, Chinese Embassy spokesman Zhang Hua said in a statement that suggested the vessel did not spill any oil.

The frigate became stuck Wednesday night on Half Moon Shoal, about 110 kilometers (70 miles) from the western Philippine province of Palawan, prompting China and the Philippines to send rescue ships. Both countries were already locked in a tense dispute over another shoal off the northwestern Philippines.

Philippine navy chief Vice Admiral Alexander Pama said at least six Chinese navy ships, along with smaller utility boats, helped refloat the grounded frigate. Filipino coast guard vessels had been deployed near the area to help if needed, he said.

The Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila said Saturday the Philippines was investigating the circumstances that led to the accident. The government on Sunday expressed relief that the delicate incident was over.

The New York Times reports that while the incident was seen as an embarrassment for China, state media have downplayed it as minor. At the same time, a Sunday Global Times editorial called out the Philippines, Vietnam and Japan for “humiliating themselves” with their maritime stances:

The Philippines has been the most embarrassed by its futile actions. Manila didn’t have the military or diplomatic influence to match its high-pitched verbal provocations. It hoped to embarrass China, which on the contrary has enhanced its actual administration over Huangyan Island and increased its presence in the disputed waters.

After Vietnam announced its new sea law in late June, breaking the status quo, China reacted by formally establishing the city of Sansha and putting nine oil and gas exploration blocks in the South China Sea area up for bidding.

The moves, which helped implement China’s sovereignty, dealt a blow to the Hanoi administration.

Meanwhile, after Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda suggested plans to nationalize the Diaoyu Islands, he met with a series of follow-up reactions from both Taiwan’s and the mainland’s activists devoted to protecting the Diaoyu Islands.

State media also said last week that provocative moves by Japan to buy the Diaoyu Islands will harm its interests and, ultimately, increase the likelihood of “things getting out of control” in the long-term. Chinese fishing authorities on Monday concluded a week-long patrol mission to the Diaoyu Islands, where they reportedly engaged in a verbal confrontation with Japanese Coast Guard ships. The Economist warns that the “stakes will become higher than a few fish and scraggly goats” if China misinterprets Japan’s push for the islands.

Meanwhile, Xinhua reports that China’s largest ever fishing fleet, with 30 vessels, has completed a 3-day voyage from the island of Hainan and begun fishing in the South China Sea’s Nansha Islands, which the Chinese government elevated to prefectural-level status in June amid an ongoing row with Vietnam. CCTV also has a news crew embedded with the flotilla.

Diplomats at last week’s ASEAN meeting pushed for a long-term solution to the tensions on the South China Sea, though Voice of America reports that they did not manage to hammer out a joint statement on the issues. The National Bureau of Asian Research caught up with Ian Storey of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, who said that it was “highly unlikely” that the parties involved would have reached an agreement anyway. The Financial Times, however, called the result “embarrassing”.

See also the latest installment of the Hexie Farm series, via CDT, in which Crazy Crab uses the beached navy vessel as a means to comment on the future of political reform in China.