Tag Archives: Huangyan Island

Scarborough Shoal Dispute Flares Up Again

Landsat 7 image of Scarborough Shoal in South China Sea dated 23 February 2000The Philippines says that two of China’s most advanced fisheries protection vessels have been deployed in disputed waters of the South China Sea off the Scarborough Shoal, known as Huangyan Island to China (shown right). They are among five Chinese government ships–three from Fisheries Enforcement and two Coast Guard–16 fishing boats and 56 utility boats Manila says are plying waters that saw a stand-off between the two countries’ coast guard vessels last month and sparked a continuing diplomatic row. Beijing says that only 20 fishing boats are in the area, a typical number for this time of year.

The two countries had announced separate seasonal fishing bans in an effort to diffuse the dispute. Beijing says the Chinese vessels are observing its. Manila says they are harvesting clams and coral, in contravention of its ban, and has demanded they withdraw. The satellite image above shows the entrance to the lagoon bottom right; the outline is marked by the coral reef. On Tuesday, the foreign ministry said that what it called the Philippines’ provocations had necessitated “China to adopt corresponding measures to strengthen management and control.” It also took a dig, if not in name, at the U.S. for selling the Philippines a Hamilton class naval cutter. None of this sounds like an easing of tensions.

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The Shipping News

Much has happened this week since Beijing and Manila announced mutual temporary fishing bans that lower the tension in their dispute over territorial claims in the South China Sea that came to a head with a stand-off near the Scarborough Shoal (Huangyan Island to China). In summary:

  • Vietnam has repeated its rejection of China’s imposition of the above mentioned seasonal fishing ban in the South China Sea.
  • Beijing and Tokyo are holding a first round of talks on their maritime dispute in the East China Sea.
  • China is putting 4,000 islands to which it lays claim under real-time 3-D ariel surveillance, including 45 islands described as being “along baseline points of China’s territorial waters”.
  • Filipino oil company, Philex Petroleum, says it is seeking rigs to drill for natural gas near the Reed Bank off Palawan, waters disputed with China. China’s CNOOC might supply them.
  • North Korea has seized three Chinese trawlers in the Yellow Sea, apparently for ransom.

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Beijing Eases Tensions in South China Sea Stand-off

China's view of the South China Sea.

China has pulled back two of its three coast guard ships involved in the two-week long stand-off with the Philippines off the Scarborough Shoal (Huangyan Island to China) in disputed waters of the South China Sea.  State media, quoting a Chinese embassy spokesman in Manila,  says the two withdrawn vessels include the Yuzheng-310, China’s most advanced fisheries patrol ship and which had arrived in the area late last week as a show of force.

The increasingly prickly incident started on April 10 after a Filippino Navy cutter attempted to detain a dozen Chinese trawlers for alleged illegal fishing. The de-escalation comes despite little progress being made on the diplomatic front.

Update: China continues to reiterate its historical claim to the shoal, whose location is shown on the map, above, with the Philippines conspicuous by its absence. On Monday, Beijing denounced Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario’s call for other countries to take a stand against China’s maritime territorial claims. On Tuesday, it rejected his assertion that its territorial claims may threaten freedom of navigation in the region.

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South China Sea Standoff Ratchets Up A Notch

China's most advanced fisheries patrol vessel, the Yuzheng-310The standoff between China and the Philippines in disputed South China Sea waters off the Scarborough Shoal (Huangyan Island to China) has ratcheted up a notch with the arrival of the Yuzheng-310 (left), China’s most advanced fisheries patrol vessel, to “protect China’s sea rights and ensure the safety of Chinese fishermen”. The vessel is no stranger to such duty, having done the same in waters disputed with Japan in the East China Sea off the Senkaku Islands (Diaoyu Islands to China).

This latest incident started when a Filippino Navy cutter attempted to detain a dozen Chinese trawlers on April 10th for what Manila said was illegal fishing in its waters. While Manila swapped out its warship for a coast guard vessel and released the trawlers, it has refused China’s demand to withdraw from what Beijing says is Chinese territory. The arrival of the 2,580-tonne Yuzheng-310 to support the two Chinese coast guard vessels already there is being taken as a test of how far Beijing will push its increasingly assertive territorial claims in the resource-rich South China Sea. Protests have been staged outside the Chinese embassy in Manila, while hackers claiming to be from China briefly defaced the home page of the Philippines’ leading university with a message asserting China’s territorial maritime claims, all highlighting concerns that the increasingly testy incident could spin out of control.

As well as the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei all have claims on parts of the South China Sea, which China claims nearly in its entirety. (The BBC has this map of who claims what and where the claims overlap.)

The Philippines bases its claim to the Scarborough Shoal on the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea. Beijing has rejected Manila’s latest proposals to take the dispute to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea for adjudication. It wants any settlement to be a bilateral one between governments, reckoning it holds the upper hand. Meanwhile it has beefed up its patrols in the South China Sea to underline the point.

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South China Sea Stand-Off Takes A Worrying Turn

The standoff off the Scarborough Shoal (Huangyan Island to China) between China and the Philippines is taking a different direction to other recent territorial maritime disputes in the South and East China Seas. Previously a confrontational incident, usually involving coast guards and Chinese fishing boats, has been followed by a diplomatic defusing. This time, there has been a second phase of confrontation at sea.

The incident started a week ago when a Filippino naval cutter detained a dozen Chinese fishing vessels for fishing in disputed waters. A vessel from China Marine Surveillance (CMS), the paramilitary maritime law enforcement agency, effectively a coast guard, went to the fishermen’s aid, then a second. Manila swapped its warship for a coast guard vessel. The trawlers were allowed to leave in two batches. One coast guard vessel stayed to face off its Filippino counterpart. But then a second arrived, and on Sunday there was reportedly overflights by Chinese planes.

All these incidents in disputed waters are tests of the other claimants’ will to defend their claims to the disputed waters–and the riches that lie below. They are mostly driven by the more nationalist and military sections of government. The danger is that one will spin out of control. As we suggested earlier, this latest incident is not just a test of Manila but also of Washington’s willingness to back its regional allies. The Philippines and the U.S. are now undertaking joint naval exercises in the area, though these were planned before the stand-off started, and are not happening in disputed waters). For its part, CMS now says it will step up its patrols in the South China Sea. (The BBC has this map of who claims what and where the claims overlap.)

Without a region-wide settlement of the question, something that ASEAN has been trying to broker without success, these incidents at sea will continue, as will the risk of one of them escalating. The more the uniformed services take matters into their own hands, the greater that risk becomes.

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China and Philippines in South China Sea Stand-Off

The 2010 collision between a Chinese trawler and a Japanese Coast Guard vessel in disputed waters in the East China Sea triggered a nasty international spat and brought relations between Tokyo and Beijing to a testy and very public low. An incident involving another dozen Chinese fishing boats, this one in waters of the South China Sea disputed with the Philippines, could turn uglier yet. Warships have become involved in a maritime stand-off near the Scarborough Shoal, which China calls Huangyan Island.

Manila claims its vessel, one of three cutters recently acquired from the U.S., discovered the Chinese boats fishing illegally on April 8. Chinese surveillance ships, technically from the coast guard, not Navy, arrived on the 10th to prevent the Filipino warship capturing the trawlers. Manila subsequently replaced its warship with a coast guard vessel. (Update: A third Chinese surveillance ship has arrived.) Beijing claims the fishing boats were seeking shelter and harassed by the warship. It has also subsequently reiterated its claim to sovereignty over the waters.

The dispute over who owns which part of the East and South China Seas, and the rich resources beneath, is a long-running one. It was a prominent topic at the recent ASEAN summit, but not one that moved anywhere closer to resolution. The latest incident with the Philippines follows China’s detention of 21 Vietnamese fishermen in March while working off the Paracel Islands (Xisha to the Chinese and Hoang Sa to the Vietnamese). Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have claims of sovereignty over often overlapping parts of the South China Sea. China’s claim is the largest, though, covering a big U-shape over most of the sea’s 1.7 million square kilometers, straddling shipping lanes between East Asia and Europe and the Middle East and below which are believed to be rich oil, gas and mineral deposits.

A year ago, there was tension between China and the Philippines after two Chinese patrol vessels harassed a survey vessel conducting oil exploration in the Reed Bank, about 150 kilometers east of the Spratly Islands. This was seen at the time as another attempt by Beijing to test Manila’s commitment to pursuing its territorial claims. This latest incident looks like a re-run, and a possible test of Washington’s willingness to back its Southeast Asian allies in this dispute, especially since the Obama administration’s announcement of its Asia pivot in foreign policy.

Beijing and Manila both have other issues on their mind at present, including a common concern about North Korea’s imminent launch of a rocket, which is projected to fall to earth near the Philippines’ main island, Luzon. The controversial launch has, though, led to the deployment of U.S. and Japanese naval forces in the East China Sea, which Beijing considers its back yard. This may make it even more prickly in asserting its maritime territorial claims.

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