Wednesday, April 18, 2012

China summons Manila envoy over South China Sea standoff

China summoned a diplomat from the Philippines for a second time on Wednesday to protest Manila's claim over an area of the South China Sea, a foreign ministry spokesman said, as the standoff between the two countries showed no sign of ending.

The most recent dispute is well into its second week, with a Philippine coast guard ship and two Chinese maritime surveillance vessels faced off near the Scarborough Shoal in waters believed to be rich in oil and gas.

Vice Foreign Minister Fu Ying "urgently summoned" the Philippines Charge' d'affaires, Alex Chua, on Sunday and again on Wednesday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin told reporters.

"She pointed out that the Philippines military vessels' harassment of Chinese fishermen and fishing boats have drawn the close attention of China," Liu said.

"We hope the Philippines side will honor its commitment and withdraw its ships from the relevant waters immediately, so that the waters of Huangyan island can return to peace and stability."

The small group of rocky islets, known in the Philippines as the Panatag Shoal but which the Chinese call Huangyan, is about 124 nautical miles off the main Philippine island of Luzon, near a former U.S. Navy base in Subic Bay.

The Philippines is to ask China to agree to take the dispute to an international court.

Liu stress Beijing's position that the islands are part of China's "inherent territory", adding that "China was the first to discover and name the Huangyan island, the first to list it into China's territory and to practice sovereign jurisdiction".

The Philippines Foreign Affairs Department said on Wednesday that "a claim by itself, including historical claim, could not be a basis for acquiring a territory".

Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said he summoned China's ambassador to Manila, Ma Keqing, for talks last week.

The dispute is one of myriad of conflicting claims over islands, reefs and shoals in the South China Sea that pit China against the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan.

Tension has risen in the past two years over worries China is becoming more assertive in its claims to the sea which straddles shipping lanes between East Asia and Europe and the Middle East.

(Reporting by Sui-Lee Wee; Additional reporting by Rosemarie Francisco in Manila; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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