By Jojo Malig
MANILA, Philippines – China is not pulling out of the West Philippine Sea anytime soon, and is instead fortifying its presence in region in defiance of neighboring countries that seek a peaceful resolution to their territorial disputes.
Zhuang Guotu, director of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies at Xiamen University, told the Communist Party of China-owned Global Times tabloid on Tuesday that Beijing has no plans of giving up Scarborough Shoal to the Philippines, as well as the islands in the Spratlys and the Paracels that are being claimed by other countries.
The Philippine Navy and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said on Tuesday that Chinese ships and fishing boats have been seen again at Scarborough Shoal off Zambales.
Following an aerial surveillance by a Navy Islander plane, Navy chief Vice Admiral Alexander Pama said that as of Monday afternoon, a total of 28 Chinese vessels and boats were spotted in and outside the lagoon.
These consist of three China maritime surveillance (CMS) vessels, two Fisheries Law Enforcement Command (FLEC) ships, six fishing boats, and 17 dinghies.
Zhuang said Chinese ships will remain at Scarborough to assert Beijing’s claim.
“China has never made commitments that it would pull out from the waters around the island,” he said.
He also claimed that the Philippines only said that Chinese ships earlier pulled out “to get out of an awkward situation.”
Zhuang echoed a statement made on June 18 by Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei, who said that said China did not give any commitment to the Philippines that it will withdraw its ships from Scarborough Shoal.
“The Huangyan Island is Chinese territory. Since the Philippine side provoked the Huangyan Island incident, China has been demanding the Philippines to pull out its ships. We have noted that two Philippine government vessels left the Huangyan Island in the early morning of June 16. We hope the situation will be eased further and bilateral cooperative relations will be restored and safeguarded,” he said.
“We wonder where the so-called China’s commitment of ‘withdrawing ship’ comes from. We hope the Philippine side can restrain its words and deeds and do more things conducive to the development of bilateral relations,” Hong said.
“As far as I know, Chinese fishing boats are heading back to port for shelter due to the rough seas off the Huangyan Island,” he added.
“In order to ensure the safety of Chinese fishermen and fishing boats, the China Maritime Research and Rescue Center, upon the request of China’s Fishery Administration Command Center and Chinese fishermen, has sent the ‘Nanhaijiu 115′ ship to the area and provide necessary assistance,” he said.
In a press briefing Monday, Hong said “Chinese government ships maintain jurisdiction and vigilance over the areas,” referring to Scarborough Shoal and the Spratlys.
Scarborough Shoal seems just to be a part of China’s masterplan in its claims in the West Philippine Sea.
On Thursday, Beijing raised the administrative status of the Spratlys and other disputed islets, reefs, and shoals in the West Philippine Sea from county-level to prefectural-level, according to Chinese state media.
China’s State Council gave the green light for the setting up of a new prefectural-level city of Sansha (City of Three Sands) to govern the Nansha (Spratlys), Xisha (Paracels), and Zhongsha (Macclesfield bank) islands, state news agency Xinhua reported.
China and Vietnam are also locked in a dispute over the Paracel Islands and the Spratlys.
The Vietnamese National Assembly has passed of a Law of the Sea, which describes the Paracels and the Spartlys as under Hanoi’s sovereignty and jurisdiction.
In response, China’s Hainan Province announced that four areas around the Paracels will be declared as “cultural relic protection areas.”
With the help of the Ministry of Public Security, Hainan plans to build an offshore supervision platform to keep watch over the Paracel’s “cultural relics,” Xinhua said Monday.
“All these efforts signal that China is fortifying its presence,” Zhuang said.