The Philippines said yesterday it would not lodge a diplomatic protest after China extricated a naval frigate from a disputed South China Sea shoal where it had been stranded for four days.
Last week’s stranding of the ship on Half Moon Shoal (半月礁), which Manila calls Hasa Hasa, was probably an accident, Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said.
“We do not believe that there were ill-intentions that accompanied the presence of that ship in our Exclusive Economic Zone [EEZ],” del Rosario said.
“As far as filing a diplomatic protest is concerned, my stance is that we will probably not do that,” he added.
The ship was reportedly on “routine patrol” when it got stranded on Wednesday on the shoal, which sits just 60 nautical miles (111km) from the western Philippine island of Palawan, within the country’s EEZ.
International law defines a country’s exclusive economic zone as being up to 200 nautical miles from its shores.
The Chinese embassy in Manila said the frigate was “refloated successfully” before daybreak yesterday and del Rosario said he was informed it was already en route back to China.
The shoal is part of the Spratly Islands — known in Taiwan as the Nansha Islands (南沙群島) — a string of atolls and islands that straddle vital shipping lanes in the South China Sea believed sitting atop vast mineral deposits.
Apart from the Philippines and China, the Spratlys are claimed in whole or in part by Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam.
Overlapping claims to the islands have perennially caused tensions among the claimants, with the Philippines and Vietnam recently accusing China of being increasingly aggressive in staking its claims.
The dispute also marred an annual meeting of Southeast Asian foreign ministers held in Cambodia last week, where Manila’s chief diplomat accused China of “duplicity” and intimidation.
The dispute divided the grouping, with host Cambodia siding with China, thus preventing them from issuing a customary joint statement that summarizes achievements and concerns.
However, Philippine Secretary of National Defense Voltaire Gazmin yesterday said the Chinese frigate apparently made a navigational mistake that caused it to run aground.