MANILA, Philippines - The Chinese vessels that have taken up position since early last month near Ayungin Shoal in Palawan have pulled out, a senior security official said yesterday.
The two Chinese maritime surveillance (CMS) vessels pulled out of Ayungin at the same time as those who have been guarding Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal off Zambales, the official said.
“There’s no more sighting of Chinese vessels around Ayungin and Panatag since Wednesday until Friday afternoon,” said the official, who asked not be identified as he is not authorized to speak on the issue.
Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin confirmed Friday that Chinese vessels are no longer anywhere near Panatag Shoal since Wednesday.
Gazmin, however, made no mention of the Chinese vessels monitored near Ayungin, whose presence in the area early May increased maritime tension in the West Philippine Sea spawned by last year’s standoff in Panatag Shoal.
China, flexing its naval muscles in the region, subsequently occupied the country’s rock formation located only 124 nautical miles from Zambales after the Philippine government ordered the withdrawal of two Philippine Coast Guard vessels from the shoal to de-escalate the tension.
China, citing historical facts, is laying an encompassing maritime claim to almost the entire South China Sea – from the coast of Beijing’s southernmost island province of Hainan down to the territorial waters of Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei and Malaysia.
While describing the Chinese vessels leaving Panatag and Ayungin shoals as a welcome development, sources said the country’s air and maritime sovereignty monitoring will continue over its territorial waters.