The Chinese government has pulled out its fishing boats from the disputed Scarborough Shoal in the West Philippine Sea but said on Monday that it has no immediate plans of pulling out its service ships from the area.
In a text message sent to the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Chinese Embassy to the Philippines Spokesperson Zhang Hua said that Beijing has not expressed any intention of withdrawing its government ships from the disputed territory.
Last Friday, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said that China on Friday had seven government ships outside the lagoon and at least 20 fishing boats in the lagoon.
On Sunday, however, the Chinese Ministry of Transport ordered the withdrawal of the fishing vessels.
Due to the inclement weather and strong tide in the [Scarborough Shoal] waters, in order to help Chinese fishermen and fishing boats pull out safely for shelter, Nanhaijiu-115 vessel has set out to the area to provide necessary assistance, the June 17 order said.
The Chinese decision came several days after President Benigno Aquino III ordered the pull-out of the two Philippine vessels due to bad weather.
The Chinese side has been urging the Philippine side to take measures to de-escalate the situation, Zhang said in response to Aquino’s order.
We have noticed the withdrawal of government vessels by the Philippine side, and hope this action will help ease the tension, he added.
Last week, DFA Secretary Albert del Rosario said that China has yet to fulfill its promise to pull out its ships from the disputed territory.
That’s precisely what we’re waiting for. We’re waiting for them to be able to meet their commitment to remove those vessels from that lagoon, he was quoted as saying in an Inquirer report.
In a China Daily report, however, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hong Lei denied that Beijing has made such commitment. He also reiterated China’s undisputed sovereignty over the region.
We hope the situation will continue to ease, and we’ll be able to restore bilateral cooperation. We hope the Philippines can exercise restraint, he added.
Meanwhile, Malacanñng said on Monday the the pull-out of the Philippine ships will not affect the country’s territorial claim.
It is within our exclusive economic zone, Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda was quoted as saying in an ABS-CBN News report.
The vessels are there primarily to ensure our sovereign rights to the exclusive economic zone and this is in consonance with the UNCLOS (United Nations Convention of the Laws of the Sea), he added.
Earlier, Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte said that at least five government agencies, including the Office of the President, will re-evaluate whether or not to redeploy the Philippine government ships.
The reason for the pullout was to make sure the Coast Guard and Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources personnel will not be in danger. There’s nothing else to that but the safety of PCG and BFAR personnel, Valte said.