4 Chinese ships back at Ayungin

Jaime Laude - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - Four Chinese surveillance ships have returned to Ayungin Shoal after several months of absence.

A security official who asked not be named said two of the Chinese ships have the 306 and 363 markings on their bows, while the two others look like frigates.

“They’ve been spotted near Ayungin since last week,” the security official said.

Another source said the Chinese Navy is again maintaining an active presence in the Spratlys.

“They were gone, but they have returned,” the source said.

Filipinos continue to fish in the area of Ayungin despite the presence of the Chinese ships.

Armed Forces chief Gen. Emmanuel Bautista has vowed to defend Filipino fishermen against any “terror or intimidation” in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

In an interview with the Associated Press, Bautista said Chinese claims to islands just off the Philippine coast are “of course absolute nonsense.”

“Just take a look at the map,” he said.

“Our fishermen will continue fishing, assert their rights on those areas. They should go on with their lives as fishermen, not bow down to terror or intimidation.

“To the best that we can, we will support them, especially if there is more aggression and unnecessary use of force,” he added.

Bautista said that decision risked angering China in the short term, but that it was the right course of action.

“They are a big country, we are a small country,” he said. “What can we do? Bring it to court, solve it through peaceful means.”

Ayungin Shoal serves as a supply route from mainland Palawan to settlers in Kalayaan town in Pag-Asa Island.

Kalayaan Mayor Eugenio Bito-onon Jr. said: “With its vast resources, who can prevent China from implementing its illegal reclamation projects in the region?”

China claims Ayungin as part of its maritime domain, although it is located very near Palawan and within the territorial waters of the Philippines.

In May last year, Chinese ships took up positions near Ayungin Shoal and only left the area after a series of typhoons struck the country.

Since then, Chinese ships were seen in the area while sailing south or north, apparently on patrol.

China has been trying to occupy the Ayungin despite a detachment of Philippine Marines stationed on the grounded BRP Sierra Madre.

New envoy here Sunday

New Chinese ambassador Zhao Jianhua is set to arrive on Sunday, diplomatic sources said yesterday.

Zhao, former ambassador to Liberia, replaces Ma Keqing whose tour of duty ended last December.

Zhao worked at the Asia desk of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China, and his first ambassadorial assignment in Africa was to Liberia.

At an Investiture Ceremony on Dec. 6, 2013, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf admitted Zhao into the Humane Order of African Redemption, with the grade of Knight Great Band.

The Philippines has filed a case against China before the arbitral tribunal of the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), challenging excessive claims in the South China Sea.

China has refused to participate in the arbitration, insisting on bilateral discussions on the territorial dispute and calling on the Philippines to meet it halfway to jointly maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea. – With AP, Pia Lee-Brago


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