DND spots 10 Chinese ships near Panatag

Alexis Romero - Philstar.com
VIENTIANE, Laos – Ten Chinese ships have been spotted around the Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, a Cabinet official said, as the Philippines is trying to mend its ties with China despite a row over some areas in South China Sea.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said it is possible that China is planning to conduct reclamation in the area, which is located off Zambales and is well within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone. He said the ships were monitored in the area last Saturday.
“Actually, there are  10 ships, four Coast Guard (vessels), four barges and two other manned vessels,” Lorenzana told reporters Monday night.
“What is suspicious is they have drums, things that appear to be containers,” he added.
Lorenzana quoted Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jinhua as saying that the vessels are transferring sand from one area to another.
“We suspect that they’re testing the ground if their technology can reclaim underwater,” the Defense chief said.

'Very worrisome'

“It is very worrisome. That area is ours. Once they seize an island, we can no longer recover it,” he added.
“If they start reclamation and build (structures), it can pose a risk to our security because it’s just 30 miles (48 kms) away from Masinloc (town in Zambales).”
Panatag Shoal, also called Bajo de Masinloc, is located 124 nautical miles from the nearest point in Zambales. In 2012, Chinese surveillance ships prevented a Philippine Navy vessel from arresting Chinese poachers who had harvested endangered species in the area.
China has since maintained its presence in the shoal, effectively barring Filipino fishermen from entering what used to be their traditional fishing route.
Lorenzana said the Foreign Affairs department is planning to ask China to explain the presence of the 10 ships in the shoal.
“We will continue to conduct surveillance operations,” he said.
President Duterte previously said he is ready to hold bilateral talks with China to settle the South China Sea row peacefully. Duterte called on China last month to allow Filipino fishers back into the area.
"It’s about time that they should consider the privilege of the Filipinos," Duterte said then. 
Duterte has also asked former President Fidel V. Ramos to hold backchannel talks with China’s representatives before the two countries can start formal negotiations.
An international arbitration court has already ruled in a case initiated by the Philippines that China's nine-dash line claim over a large part of the South China Sea has no basis in international law. China has refused to recognize the ruling and says it has a historical and legal claim over the area.

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