China, Philippines dispute raises tensions in South China Sea
With tensions between China and its neighbors over the South China Sea already high, any disagreement runs the risk of becoming militarized.
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The highly-disputed South China Sea is once again the site of a diplomatic standoff between two East Asian countries, with both the Philippines and China unwilling to back down in a fishing dispute that risks becoming much more.
Two Chinese ships have blocked a Philippine naval ship from arresting Chinese fisherman for fishing in waters that the Philippines considers to be within its "exclusive economic zone." China has ordered the Philippine naval ship to leave, insisting that it has sovereignty of the area, while the Philippines refutes this.
Voice of America reports that the dispute is "the most dangerous confrontation between the two countries in recent years" and comes after both countries said they were seeking rapprochement.
The Philippine foreign ministry says the Chinese fishing boats were first noticed Sunday by Manila's flagship naval vessel, the U.S.-built Gregorio del Pilar.
Manila says the two Chinese surveillance ships on Tuesday positioned themselves between the warship and the Chinese fishing boats, "preventing the arrest of the erring fishermen."
The Chinese Embassy statement says the fishing boats were simply taking shelter near the island due to inclement weather. It said the two surveillance ships were taking action to safeguard "Chinese national maritime interests and rights."
A Philippine inspection of the Chinese fishing boats revealed illegally harvested coral, clams, and live sharks, according to the Philippine government, Associated Press reports.
The contested area, known outside of the Philippines and China as Scarborough Shoal, is 143 miles from the Philippines island of Luzon, according to Agence France-Presse (see map). But China, which calls the area Huangyan Island, claims sovereignty over the entirety of the South China Sea, including areas close to the shores of other sovereign countries – and hundreds of miles away from its own territory. Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei, and Vietnam also lay claim to parts of the sea.