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PH keeps distance as China, US tangle over Scarborough

THE Palace on Sunday distanced itself from a maritime incident near the Scarborough Shoal involving China and the United States.

“The United States can take care of its own interest,” said presidential spokesman Harry Roque, who said the Philippines does not wish to be part of a US-China dispute.

“The Philippines’ claim over Scarborough Shoal is recognized under our constitutional law and international law,” Roque also said.

Last week, an American missile destroyer sailed within 12 nautical miles of Scarborough Shoal, a ring of reefs that lies about 230 kilometers from the Philippines, where China’s claims are contested by other nations, including Manila.

On Saturday, Beijing said it had dispatched a warship to drive away the US vessel that had violated its sovereignty and put Chinese ships “under grave threat.”

“That is America’s problem because for our part, we have different tactics in dealing with China,” Roque said in Filipino on radio dzMM.

“We have reached a point where we have independent foreign relations, and a problem of America is no longer a problem of the Philippines,” Roque added.

China in 2012 seized control of Scarborough Shoal, following a three-month standoff where the Philippines tried to arrest Chinese fishermen found illegally hauling giant clams there.

Washington, Manila’s only treaty ally, dispatched patrol vessels in the strategic waters, intensified joint patrols with Filipino troops and backed an arbitration case filed by then President Benigno Aquino III.

The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled in favor of the Philippines in 2012 and invalidated China’s historic claims to the resource-rich sea.

However, President Rodrigo Duterte has set aside the arbitral ruling as he sought to forge closer ties with Beijing.

China has stopped driving Filipino boats away from Scarborough, Roque said. 

The USS Hopper recently entered the US Navy’s 7th Fleet area of operations, where the ship is on an “independent deployment,” according to a statement released earlier this month on the Navy’s website.

Its mission in Asia involves “security cooperation, building partner capacity, and performing routine operations within the area”.

News of the encounter followed Friday’s release of a new US national defense strategy that says America is facing “growing threats” from China and Russia.

China is a “strategic competitor using predatory economics to intimidate its neighbors while militarizing features in the South China Sea”, the document says.

China’s defense ministry dismissed those claims on Saturday, saying “the situation in the South China Sea has steadily stabilized,” in comments attributed to spokesman Wu Qian.

But it added, “the United States has repeatedly sent warships illegally into the adjacent waters of the South China Sea islands and reefs.”

Beijing asserts sovereignty over almost all of the resource-rich South China Sea despite rival claims from Southeast Asian neighbours and has rapidly built reefs into artificial islands capable of hosting military planes.

China seized Scarborough Shoal in 2012 after a brief stand-off with the Philippine Navy. The shoal is also claimed by Taiwan.  With AFP

Topics: Scarborough Shoal , US , PH , China

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