Chinese ships hold maneuvers in Spratlys

by Jojo Malig,

Posted at Jul 02 2012 09:21 PM | Updated as of Jul 03 2012 08:15 PM

MANILA, Philippines - Four Chinese surveillance ships held practice maneuvers near a China-controlled reef in the Spratlys, state-owned news agency Xinhua said Monday.

The 4 vessels belonging to the paramilitary China Marine Surveillance (CMS) law enforcement agency linked up in a formation near the Yongshu Reef.

The 2-hour maneuvers went smoothly but bad weather prevented a helicopter from taking part, Xinhua reported.

The ships left China's southern coastal city of Sanya on June 26 and travelled 1,800 nautical miles before arriving at Huayang Reef on Sunday.

The ships have anchored northeast of Yongshu Reef, Xinhua said.

'Effective alternatives'

Meanwhile, state-owned newspaper China Daily has published an opinion piece urging the Chinese government to "consider effective alternatives" to diplomacy in Beijing's territorial rows with Manila over the Spratlys and Scarborough Shoal.

"For a long time, China showed restraint in the disputes over South China Sea. However, China's stance in a peaceful resolution of territory disputes seems to be misinterpreted by the Philippine side. It’s unwise to challenge China’s determination to safeguard territorial integrity and sovereignty," said the opinion piece written by Ming Yang.

He lashed out at the Philippines over the establishement of a kindergarten school on Pag-asa Island.

"Manila persists in infringing upon China’s sovereignty over the South China Sea," Ming said. "Establishing a kindergarten on Zhongye Island (called Pagasa Island by the Philippines) is its latest attempt to exacerbate the situation."

"Philippine officials said the school opened on June 15 without fanfare to help a poor Filipino community on the island and not to antagonize rival claimants," he added.

"Undoubtedly, it is in fact a part of Philippines' delicate plan to permanently claim sovereignty over the Nansha Islands. On the one hand, Philippine officials could encourage more families to live on the island by offering them free food, shelter, electricity, water and now, education. On the other hand, it will add to China’s difficulty in taking back the island as more kids are accommodated at the school," he claimed.

He said the issue reminds him of Vietnam sending monks to Nansha Island to refurbish the temples and hold rituals.

"While continuing to use military and administrative methods to retain control of the islands, they start to play soft tricks to get the advantage in the territorial disputes. They are trying to take moral stands and win support from the international community once the territorial disputes with China worsened," he claimed.

Aggravating conflict?

A Chinese Foreign Ministry earlier claimed that the kindergarten school on Pag-asa Island will only aggravate the situation in the Spratlys.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei, in a press briefing, said the Philippines should "refrain from taking any measures that will complicate and exacerbate the current situation and affect peace and stability in the South China Sea."

Pag-asa, the biggest of the 7 Kalayaan islands that are under the province of Palawan, is home to around 200 Filipinos.

A small kindergarten school was inaugurated on the 37-hectare island on June 15, according to Kalayaan town Mayor Eugenio Bito-onon.

Pag-asa has been under the Philippines' full control since the 1970s.

Philippine troops protect the island, which has an airstrip and a naval station.

Aside from the new kindergarten school, Pag-asa now also has a town hall, multi-purpose hall, health center, school, a water-filtration plant, a marina, a communications tower, a power generator, and solar power panels that provide electricity.