Philippine Naval Soldiers on board a Chinese Fishing Vessel before the standoff over the Scarborough Shoal escalated

Philippine Naval Soldiers on board a Chinese Fishing Vessel before the standoff over the Scarborough Shoal escalated (Picture: AP)

The Philippines and China have been locked in a four-day standoff after the Philippine Navy captured Chinese fishing vessels near Scarborough Shoal, contested waters that both parties lay claim to. Chinese surveillance vessels quickly moved into the area to counter the Philippine naval forces and tensions escalated from there (Read our Original Coverage here)

As of this writing, some of the Chinese vessels have departed the area, the Philippines has swapped out their Navy’s flagship, the BRP Gregorio del Pilar (PF-15) with a Philippine coast guard vessel and another naval vessel. Diplomats on both sides have continually met to resolve situation, but reaching an amicable solution to the confrontation has remained difficult:

MANILA (Reuters) – Three Chinese fishing boats and one Chinese naval vessel left a disputed area of the South China Sea on Friday, but there was no end in sight to Beijing’s territorial standoff with the Philippines, the subject of a decades-old dispute.

Problems began on Sunday when Manila dispatched its largest warship, a U.S. Hamilton-class cutter, to Scarborough Shoal, a group of rocky outcrops off the main Philippine island of Luzon, after it spotted eight Chinese fishing boats anchored in the area.

The shoal, which is crossed by major shipping lanes, is believed to be rich in oil and gas reserves as well as fish stocks and other commercially-attractive marine life.

On Friday, Philippine officials confirmed that three Chinese fishing boats had left the area, but said five other Chinese boats remained. It was unclear whether they carried illegal catches, they added.

Officials had earlier said that giant clams, coral and live sharks were illegally harvested from waters surrounding the Philippine island of Luzon.

“We are watching five fishing vessels that are still collecting coral in that area,” Lieutenant General Anthony Alcantara, chief of the army’s northern Luzon command, told reporters on Friday.

Asked if the three fishing vessels which left had carried illegal catches, he said: “I have no data on that.”

China also withdrew one of its three naval ships from the area on Friday, a day after a Philippine warship pulled out to be replaced by a coast guard vessel. Manila’s move had been interpreted as a sign that tensions were easing as diplomats rushed to find a solution to the dispute.

But on Friday the Philippine navy sent a ship into the area to back up a coast guard cutter tasked to enforce the country’s maritime laws, suggesting tensions were still high.

“The mandate is to support our coast guard there,” Alcantara said. “Our mandate is to take care of our own people there and sovereignty.”

China hasn’t wasted much time in blaming others nations, pulling “unnamed Western countries” (Cough, the United States) into the confrontation, blaming them for adding fuel to the fire:

The overseas edition of Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece the People’s Daily called for calm, accusing unnamed Western countries and media of exaggerating the seriousness of the situation to sow discord between China and its neighbours.

China, we’re sorry you believe we’ve been exaggerating the seriousness of the situation, and any previous situations, to sow discord between you and your neighbors. We should try harder to write and report exactly what the Chinese Communist Party wants us to report.

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Craig was born & raised in the United States, having recently returned there after over five years in Asia. He is currently pursuing further education in the realms of East Asian Studies and Politics. Craig is an avid fan of the political, economic, and military machinations occurring throughout the Asian continent and how those turning gears affect the rest of the world. He's currently covering both North and South Korea for Asia Security Watch, enjoying shedding light on to this far-too-often ignored slice of Asia.
Craig Scanlan has 82 post(s) on Asia Security Watch