Philippines Wary of Chinese Boats

As the Chinese navy successfully freed a warship in a disputed region in the South China Sea, the Philippines has expressed concern over Chinese ships near the Spratlys. The Voice of America reports:

The Philippines is expressing concern over 30 Chinese vessels that have settled near a reef among some disputed islands it partially claims in the South China Sea. The boats arrived from Hainan province Sunday, just days after a heated regional forum that ended with no consensus over how to address territorial disputes in the region.

Chinese news agencies say the fleet of fishing vessels near Yongshu Reef is accompanied by a 3,000-ton reinforcement ship and a government vessel for protection. China Daily says this is the largest fleet out of Hainan province to go on their annual fishing excursion.

The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs reacted immediately to the reports, issuing a statement on the arrival of the boats near the reef also known as Fiery Cross Reef.

“We just want to make sure that they don’t intrude into our exclusive economic zone and that they respect our sovereign rights over the resources within our EE Zed,” Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez said, reiterating the department’s stance.

Tensions in the disputed region seem to be mounting between China, the Philippines, and Vietnam. Despite the conclusion of the ASEAN summit, a resolution for the dispute has yet to be reached. Reuters adds:

As Philippine Foreign Minister Albert del Rosario began to raise the sensitive issue of the South China Sea at one of last week's Asian summit meetings, his microphone went dead.

A technical glitch, said the Cambodian hosts. Perhaps something more sinister, hinted some diplomats who were frustrated by Chinese ally Cambodia's dogged efforts to keep the subject off the agenda.

The failure touched on a long-standing ASEAN fear, says Carlyle Thayer, an emeritus professor at the University of New South Wales at the Australian Defense Force Academy — that lack of unity would allow foreign powers to exploit its differences.

“This is the first major breach of the dyke of regional autonomy,” he said. “China has now reached into ASEAN's inner sanctum and played on intra-ASEAN divisions.”

While the dispute continues, China plans to send a submarine into the South China Sea, which comes after China's successful dive into the Mariana trench, according to AFP:

A Chinese submersible that last month set a new national record will dive in the South China Sea next year, state media said Tuesday, as Beijing asserts its claim over the resource-rich area.

The mission is “part of the preparations for future commercial mining of the seabed”, the China Daily quoted the China Ocean Mineral Resources and Research Association as saying.

Its first mission in the area aims to study the “formation and evolution” of the South China Sea bed, the China Daily reported.

Chinese researchers estimate that the South China Sea holds more than 213 billion barrels of oil, equivalent to at least 80 percent of Saudi Arabia's reserves.

See also Navy Warship Sprung from SCS Reef, via CDT.