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China's standoff with the Philippines heats up with travel warnings, oil drilling

Analysts say the oil-rich waters around Scarborough Shoal and the Paracels are but one factor in the increasingly prickly relations between China and the Philippines.

By Jonathan LandrethCorrespondent / May 11, 2012

Protesters march towards the Chinese consulate during a rally on Friday, May 11, in Manila's financial district of Makati, Philippines. The Philippines and China are in a standoff over Scarborough Shoal which began early April after the Philippine navy accused Chinese boats of illegally fishing in the area.

Pat Roque/AP

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Beijing

China warned its citizens against travel to the Philippines on Friday, and Chinese tour groups halted visits to the South East Asian neighbor. There is fear of violence against Chinese tourists amid protests and rising tensions over a maritime territorial dispute.

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The travel warning is the latest product of China-Philippines mistrust ignited last month when the Philippine Navy tried to detain Chinese fishermen in disputed waters, bringing a long-simmering territorial standoff close to a boil.

The tensions come as China started a deep sea drilling operation in waters off the Paracel Islands on Thursday, which are also claimed by the Philippines.

Analysts say the oil-rich waters around Scarborough Shoal and the Paracels are but one factor in the increasingly prickly relations between China and many of its neighbors.

“If you removed the oil from the equation, you’d still have conflict in the South China Sea because you’ve got a rising China that’s beginning to flex its muscles and doing so in areas where it’s easier to do it without risking provoking greater reaction from other major powers,” says Patrick Chovanec, an American professor studying business and regional security at Tsinghua University in Beijing.

The fishing boat incident on April 10 occurred in the sea around a triangular collection of small reefs, rocks, and islands about 150 miles off the Philippine coast and more than 500 miles from mainland China.  

Known to international mariners as the Scarborough Shoal – named for a tea ship wreck that occurred there in the 18th century – Beijing calls the 58-square-mile outcropping Huangyan Island, while Manila calls it Panatag.

A series of tense diplomatic exchanges ensued and for weeks both governments refused to back down from their claims of sovereignty. Meanwhile, ships from both navies maneuvered in and out of waters around the shoal. Manila claimed that the United States would come to its defense if China attacked.

Heated rhetoric continued Thursday. “Peace will be a luxury if tensions continue to rise,” said an editorial in China’s English-language Global Times, a newspaper backed by the Communist Party’s flagship publication the People’s Daily.

China's travel warning 

Chinese media warned of Philippine anti-China protests and told Chinese abroad to heed local laws and heighten safety precautions.

“The Philippines encourages citizens at home or abroad to launch anti-China protests. Such behavior attracts intense responses and attention to Chinese people at home and abroad. We hope the Philippines will not further damage our relations,” spokesman Hong Lei said, according to the Chinese Foreign Ministry website.

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