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China says PH escalating tensions

BEIJING—China on Friday accused the Philippines of escalating an already tense territorial dispute in the South China Sea following a noisy but peaceful anti-Chinese protest in Manila.

But Beijing reiterated its commitment to solve its dispute with Manila over Scarborough Shoal diplomatically and said it remained in contact with Philippine officials here and in Manila.

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Hong Lei, spokesperson for the Chinese foreign ministry, made the statements in a brief interview with Asian journalists who were on a press tour here.

The Chinese news service Xinhua reported on Friday that a Chinese journalist planted China’s flag on Scarborough Shoal recently. But the Philippine Coast Guard, which has a vessel in the area, denied there was such an action at the shoal.

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“No,” Vice Adm. Edmund Tan, Coast Guard commander, replied to a text message from the Inquirer asking whether the Xinhua report was true.

Lt. Cmdr Rommel Supangan, Coast Guard spokesperson, also denied the report, saying the two Philippine vessels in the area had no such information.

Diplomatic reduction

Hong said China was “committed to diplomatic resolution” of the territorial dispute despite Manila’s stopping contact with the Chinese side for a period of time.

But he said Chinese officials have maintained contact with counterparts here and in Manila, adding that only a few days ago Chinese officials met with Philippine chargé d’affaires Alex Chua to convey “Chinese concerns and requirements.”

“In general, the Chinese public is very concerned since the issue concerns Chinese sovereignty,” Hong said.

“Our basic requirement is Chinese public service ships in the waters (at Scarborough Shoal) not to be disrupted in their duties; fishing boats’ normal activities should not be affected and Philippine public service ships should withdraw from Huangyan Island,” Hong said, using China’s name for the disputed territory that the Philippines calls Panatag Shoal.

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“We hope the Philippines will respond earnestly to Chinese request from taking actions that magnify or complicate the issue and go back to the diplomatic track,” Hong said.

Before he spoke to Asian reporters, Hong held a news conference where he reiterated China’s “inherent claim” to the shoal. He also accused the Philippine side of encouraging protests at Chinese consular offices in Manila and other capitals around the globe.

“It’s a wrong action that complicates and magnify the issue,” he said.

Malacañang said the government had no hand in Friday’s protests. Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda insisted the protests were the initiatives of private groups.

Hundreds of people from civil society and political groups marched to the Chinese consular office in Makati City on Friday to protest against China’s intrusion at Scarborough Shoal. Except for an attempt by an activist to burn a Chinese flag, the protest was peaceful.

Catholic Church support

Besides Manila, planned protests at China’s consular offices in other Asian capitals, the United States, Canada, Italy and Australia. Reports said nobody showed up at a scheduled protest in Sydney.

In Manila, the Catholic Church said on Friday it supported the administration of President Aquino in asserting Philippine sovereignty over Scarborough Shoal.

But Archbishop Jose Palma, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, said the government must continue to work toward a diplomatic resolution of the territorial dispute.

“We know that the complexity of the issue will require experts, diplomats,” Palma said on church-run Radio Veritas. “On our part, we say … we need to protect our sovereignty,” he said. With reports from Jerome Aning, Jocelyn R. Uy, Miko Morelos, Norman Bordadora

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TAGS: anti-Chinese protests, China-Philippine relations, Scarborough shoal, South China sea, West Philippine Sea
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