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Philippines, China resort to diplomacy in South China Sea

Sides say neither wins with violence, although neither withdraw from Spratlys.

Spratly islandsEnlarge
An aerial photograph taken from a Philippine Air Force aircraft shows Chinese built structures on the Mischief Reef in the disputed Spratly islands, located in the South China Sea. (AFP/Getty Images)

The Philippines and China announced they will pursue a diplomatic solution to a naval standoff in the South China Sea, although neither side was willing to back down, The Associated Press reported.

Two Chinese surveillance ships had blocked the Philippine flagship navy vessel trying to arrest Chinese fishermen reportedly carrying coral, clams and live sharks.

The confrontation was taking place at the Scarborough Shoal, part of the Spratly islands, over which several countries claim sovereignty.

"Nobody will benefit if violence breaks out there," Philippines' President Benigno Aquino III said, according to the AP. 

The Straits Times reported that eight Chinese fishing vessels were anchored off Scarborough Shoal, 124 nautical miles from the western coast of the country's main island of Luzon.

The Philippine Navy was enforcing Philippine laws on the Shoal, which were "within the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and Continental Shelf," the Department of Foreign Affairs said in a news release

It added the Philippine flagship naval vessel, the Gregorio Del Pilar, found the eight vessels there on Sunday while patrolling the area.

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Two "Chinese maritime surveillance ships" had sailed to the shoal on Tuesday, the statement said.

Philippines Foreign Secretary Albert Del Rosario reportedly summoned Chinese Ambassador Ma Keqing to resolve the impasse, saying in a statement that the Scarborough Shoal "is an integral part of Philippine territory."

Earlier this month, Aquino urged the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to arrive at a common stand on the Spratly's issue, according to the GMA Network.

Aside from the Philippines and China, there are four other claimants to the Spratlys: Malaysia, Vietnam, Taiwan, and Brunei.

The United States also expressed concern over the growing tensions, the AP said.

"We urge all parties to exercise full restraint and seek a diplomatic resolution," a State Department source told the AP. 

The Chinese said the fishing vessels sought shelter from a storm in the lagoon, The New York Times reported.

“A Philippine Naval gunboat blocked the entrance of the lagoon, and sent 12 Philippine soldiers, six of which armed, into the lagoon and harassed the Chinese fishermen,” a statement from the Chinese embassy said, according to The Times.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/asia-pacific/120410/south-china-sea-philippines-navy-china-military-chinese-warships-war