Philippines May Send Ships Back to Disputed Shoal
Manila. Philippine President Benigno Aquino III said on Wednesday he would send ships back to a disputed shoal once stormy weather clears, if ships from China have not left the area by then.
Government ships from the two countries have squared off for more than two months at the Scarborough Shoal, a rich fishing ground off the northwestern Philippines claimed by both countries.
The Philippines announced over the weekend it would withdraw its remaining two ships because of bad weather endangering Filipino crewmen, and China later said it would pull out its fishing boats for safety, sparking hopes of an end to the standoff.
Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa welcomed the actions by China and the Philippines, saying on Wednesday that his country has called on both sides “to refrain from further escalating tensions and instead promote peaceful settlement by diplomatic means.” Aquino, however, said a Philippine plane would check the shoal once the weather improves.
“If there’s a presence in our territorial waters, then we will redeploy,” Aquino told reporters. “But if there is no other presence or other vessels that might impinge on our sovereignty, there’s no need to deploy.”
A storm that has whipped up five-meter waves continued to lash the area on Wednesday. Filipino forecasters said the weather may start to clear by the weekend. Ships and fishing boats have been warned to stay away from the rough seas, they said.
A Philippine government official told The Associated Press that six Chinese government ships and 30 Chinese fishing boats were sighted at Scarborough on Tuesday.
The fishing boats, which had been marooned in the shoal’s sprawling lagoon, may have been stranded by the passing storm and may leave once the weather clears, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, citing a lack of authority to talk to reporters.