Philippines, China play cat-and-mouse at Half Moon Shoal

By Jojo Malig,

Posted at Jul 16 2012 07:06 PM | Updated as of Jul 17 2012 03:44 AM

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MANILA, Philippines - China and the Philippines have been playing a cat-and-mouse game in waters close to Philippine shores for years, with last week's grounding of a Chinese warship just off Palawan being the latest among many incidents in the area.

Baidu Baike, a Chinese user-generated encyclopedia similar to Wikipedia, has documented attempts of Chinese ships to place markers on the Philippines-controlled Half Moon Shoal in the Spratlys, where  the Chinese frigate ran aground Wednesday.

The Chinese markers, however, are being removed by Philippine ships patrolling the waters of the shoal located just 60 nautical miles off Palawan.

One such incident in 1995 drew the attention of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, with Beijing saying that the removal of its markers will not end its claim on the shoal, as well as other islands, atolls, and their waters in the Spratlys.

Chinese markers

The Philippine Navy said last year that it is indeed removing markers in the West Philippine Sea that are placed without permission by the Chinese.

One was removed from the Reed Bank, which is now known as Recto Bank, one was taken from the Boxall Reef, while another from Douglas Bank.

In July 2011, the Philippine Navy also dismantled a floating wharf built by a "foreign country" just off Puerto Princesa Palawan.

No less than Armed Forces Western Command chief Juancho Sabban noticed the suspicious-looking structure on Sabina Shoal that lies just 70 miles or 113 kilometers off Puerto Princesa.

The area is within the 200-mile exclusive economic zone of the Philippines.

Sabban said previous naval patrols failed to spot the structure because it is new.

The Navy later towed the structure to Puerto Princesa.

Military officials believe that the floating wharf could be the start of a bigger structure to be built on the shoal.

Chinese warship 'rescued'

On Sunday, China's defense ministry said its naval frigate that ran around in Half Moon Shoal, called by Beijing as Banyue Shoal, was refloated with the help of the its navy's "rescue force."

Photos on state-owned Xinhua news service identified the warship as Missile Frigate No. 560, which was slightly damaged when it ran aground.

"It has not caused any contamination for the nearby waters," a defense ministry statement said.

The Chinese defense ministry said the missile frigate "will be on a return voyage" to the mainland.

The Chinese military said the accident occurred while it was conducting a "regular patrol" -- just off Philippine land.

China is claiming ownership of the entire West Philippine Sea -- which is believed to hold large oil and gas reserves -- including areas close to the coastlines of other countries and hundreds of kilometers from its own landmass.

China has deployed "combat ready" naval and aerial patrols to the Spratlys to protect Beijing's interests, its Defense Ministry said.

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