China has begun combat-ready patrols in the waters around a disputed group of islands in the South China Sea, the Ministry of National Defense said yesterday.
Asked what China would do in response to Vietnamese air patrols over the Spratly Islands (南沙群島), ministry spokesman Geng Yansheng (耿雁生) said Beijing would “resolutely oppose any militarily provocative behavior.”
“In order to protect national sovereignty and our security and development interests, the Chinese military has already set up a normal, combat-ready patrol system in seas under our control,” he said.
China is involved in a long-running dispute with Vietnam and the Philippines about ownership of the South China Sea and its myriad, mostly uninhabited, islands and atolls. Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei also have claims.
Philippine officials said on Wednesday that Chinese fishing boats had returned to a disputed shoal despite an agreement to clear the area of all vessels.
The current standoff between China and the Philippines in the Scarborough Shoal off the northwestern Philippines began in April when Manila accused Chinese fishermen of poaching in its exclusive economic zone, including the shoal. During the tensions, both sides have sent government ships to the area.
A recent agreement saw both countries withdraw vessels, but Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez said six Chinese fishing boats and 17 smaller dinghies were spotted by a Philippine plane inside the lagoon on Monday afternoon. He said five Chinese government ships were sighted outside the lagoon in the vicinity of the shoal.
In Hanoi, Vietnam has also protested a weekend announcement by China’s CNOOC Ltd (中國海洋石油) that it was opening nine oil and gas lots for international bidders, in areas overlapping with existing Vietnamese exploration blocks.
Vietnamese foreign ministry spokesman Luong Thanh Nghi said the lots being offered by China lie entirely within Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone. He said in a statement posted on Tuesday on the ministry’s Web site that China’s move was illegal and the bidding should cease immediately.