AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE
BEIJING: China has denied it is increasing combat readiness in response to a tense territorial row with the Philippines in the South China Sea which has dragged on for more than a month.
The stand-off erupted last month after Philippine authorities detected Chinese ships fishing near the Scarborough Shoal.
They tried to arrest the crew, but were blocked by Chinese surveillance vessels deployed to the tiny rocky outcrop in the South China Sea about 230 kilometres from the Philippines’ main island of Luzon.
The two nations have stationed non-military vessels at the shoal since April 8 in an effort to assert their sovereignty over the area.
But China’s defence ministry denied military units were getting ready for war, despite warnings in state media that China is prepared to fight to end the stand-off.
“Reports that the Guangzhou military region, the South China Sea
fleet and other units have entered a state of war
preparedness are untrue,” the ministry yesterday
said in a brief statement on its website.
The Guangzhou military region in southern China has responsibility for the area.
It gave no source for the reports, but rumours on Chinese microblogs say China has ordered some military units up to level two of its four-level scale of war preparedness, one notch from the top which indicates full readiness.
China claims virtually all of the South China Sea, which is believed to sit atop huge oil and gas reserves, as its historical territory, even waters close to the coasts of other Asian countries.
The Philippines says the shoal is part of its territory because it falls within its exclusive economic zone.
Around 300 protestors yesterday demonstrated outside the Chinese embassy in the Philippines to denounce “bullying” by Beijing. Chinese citizens responded by holding far smaller protests outside the Philippine embassy in Beijing yesterday and today, but police have not
allowed sustained demonstrations. China worries protests could spark wider social unrest.
Police today hustled away five people attempting to unfurl a banner outside the embassy, who were put in a van and then driven away. Taiwan, Brunei, Vietnam and Malaysia also claim parts of the sea. The rival claims have for decades made the waters one of Asia’s potential flashpoints.