Created: June 26, 2012 Last Updated: June 27, 2012
China has pulled out all of its ships, including navy vessels, from the disputed lagoon in the Scarborough Shoal located in the South China Sea, after it agreed to terms with the Philippine government, officials said Monday.
The Philippine government had withdrawn all of its military vessels from the shoal, which it calls Panatag, on June 15, with President Benigno Aquino threatening to send them back unless China complies with the agreement.
In the past week, an alleged Chinese vessel rammed into a Philippine fishing boat in the shoal, killing one person on board and left four missing. Both Beijing and Manila claim rights over the area.
Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario told Philippines-based GMA News TV that Chinese ships pulled out of the lagoon but not from the shoal entirely. A Department of Foreign Affairs spokesperson later said that some of the vessels still remained in the area.
“Based on coordination with the Philippines and China, as of two days ago, we have received information that all boats have left the lagoon in Bajo de Masinloc,” del Rosario said, adding that no “boats from either the Philippines or China” are inside the Scarborough Shoal. A military official said that there were as many as six Chinese ships in the vicinity last week.
Tensions between China and the Philippines flared in previous weeks after the Philippines accused Chinese ships of fishing and poaching in the shoal, which falls into the Philippines’ 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) as designated through the United Nations. The flare-up prompted Beijing to send several paramilitary vessels to the area.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei on Monday accused the Philippines of exacerbating the dispute over the Shoal, reported the Xinhua news agency, a Chinese regime mouthpiece.
Lei was responding to “the establishment of a Philippine kindergarten” on Pagasa Island, which is called Zhongye Island by the Chinese regime, who claims responsibility for the island, reported Xinhua. The island is part of the Spratly Island chain in the South China Sea and has been occupied by the Philippine military since the 1970s.
Lei did not make any remarks about Chinese ships pulling out of the lagoon or shoal.
Meanwhile, President Aquino refused to assign blame for the incident that left a fishing boat sunken, one of the crew members dead, and four missing.
Local authorities, Aquino said, are still trying to find the four missing fishermen and will conduct an investigation. Survivors of the crash said that a Chinese ship rammed their vessel and later stated that the boat had the words “Hong Kong” displayed on the side and was described as a “commercial ship,” he told the Manila Bulletin.
“Once you have gathered the necessary evidence, then if there was a ramming incident and you left the victims at sea, that’s a clear violation of the laws governing the seas,” Aquino said.
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