China and the Philippines yesterday deployed ships to a disputed area of the South China Sea as a standoff simmered despite efforts by both sides to resolve the disagreement diplomatically.
Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said a third Chinese vessel had arrived at the Scarborough Shoal, a small group of rocky outcrops.
Manila sent a coastguard cutter to the shoal yesterday to reinforce its largest warship, a US Hamilton-class cutter, which on Sunday found several Chinese fishing boats anchored in the area, with one carrying illegally collected corals, giant clams and live sharks.
Del Rosario said he had raised the matter with Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Ma Ke-qing (馬克卿).
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin (劉為民) told a daily briefing in Beijing that he did not know how many Chinese vessels were in the area.
The Philippines refers to the disputed area as the Panatag Shoal while China calls it Huangyan Island (黃岩島).
Philippine officials said the navy vessel was likely to leave the area soon, as part of Manila’s effort to ease tension as it had said the navy should not be involved in the enforcement of the country’s maritime laws.
The shoal is about 125 nautical miles off the main Philippine island of Luzon and near Subic Bay, which once housed the largest US base outside its mainland.
Asked if the Philippines had sought US help with the latest dispute, a foreign affairs spokesman said: “It is not appropriate at this time to seek help from other countries.”