MANILA: China and the Philippines say they won't escalate their weeklong maritime standoff over an uninhabited shoal in the disputed South China Sea, but each still appeared to be waiting for the other side to give up Tuesday.
The Philippines pulled out a warship and replaced it with a coast guard vessel to "de-escalate the situation" over Scarborough Shoal off the country's northwestern coast, President Benigno Aquino III said Monday. But the vessel continued the Philippines' faceoff against two Chinese maritime surveillance ships.
The horseshoe-shaped shoal is among hundreds of disputed isles and reefs in the South China Sea, which is believed to be rich in oil and gas, along with being prime fishing ground and among the world's busiest sea lanes. China claims the sea nearly in its entirety, though the Philippines and four other countries have claims of their own.
Tensions have risen in the area in recent months, particularly between China and the Philippines.
Aquino said his country will assert its sovereignty but won't risk armed conflict. Paraphrasing late British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, he said, "It's better to jaw, jaw, jaw than to war, war, war."
Chinese Embassy spokesman Zhang Hua in Manila said that although China and the Philippines disagree over who possesses the shoal, "both sides agreed not to do anything to complicate or aggravate the situation."
Several rounds of talks have failed to end the impasse, which began April 10 when two Chinese ships prevented a Philippine warship from arresting several Chinese fishermen who were accused of illegal entry and poaching. The fishermen slipped away from the shoal over the weekend.
The Philippines lodged another protest with China on Monday, accusing one of the Chinese ships and an aircraft of harassing a Philippine-registered yacht to force it to leave the Scarborough area. Several French citizens are on the yacht, which has been conducting archaeological research in the shoal, Philippine Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez said.
Zhang said that the yacht infringed on China's rights "and violates relevant international conventions."
The impasse continued as nearly 7,000 American and Filipino troops began annual military exercises Monday that will include combat drills near the disputed waters.
U.S. and Philippine officials said the drills would mostly focus on humanitarian missions and disaster preparedness but would also include combat maneuvers including the mock retaking of an oil rig supposedly seized by terrorists near the South China Sea. They stressed that China was not an imaginary target in the drills.