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Gazmin to discuss China standoff with US defense chief

Posted at | Updated as of 04/18/12 3:48 PM

MANILA, Philippines – Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin on Tuesday said he plans to discuss the ongoing territorial dispute with China with US defense secretary Leon Panetta in Washington at the end of the month.

Gazmin said he will be joined by Foreign Affairs Albert del Rosario in the meeting, scheduled on April 30. Joining Panetta in the upcoming meeting is Secretary of the State Hilary Clinton.

Gazmin said the meeting will discuss regional issues, bilateral ties, defense and economic cooperation.

Asked if the standoff at the Scarborough Shoal will be discussed, he said: "I'm sure this will be one of the subject matters."

He added that he expects the US to act only if their interest is involved. “If it’s not, it’s not for the good of their interest, then I'm sure they won't act,’ he said.

The defense chief said the US could offer equipment upgrades that would help the Philippines safeguard its maritime resources.

The Department of Foreign Affairs earlier filed its second diplomatic protest against China over China’s alleged harassment of the Philippine-registered MY Saranggani.

Gazmin said a suspected Chinese aircraft buzzed a Filipino fishing vessel at the disputed Scarborough Shoal on Monday. He said the buzzing was tantamount to telling the Filipino fishing vessel, which recently arrived the shoal, to leave the contested area.

The buzzing was reported by the Coast Guard whose BRP Edsa Dos is in the area, along with two Chinese maritime surveillance ships.

China claims all of the South China Sea as its own on historical grounds, even waters approaching the coasts of the Philippines and other Southeast Asian countries.

The rival claims have been a source of regional tensions for decades, although the Philippines and Vietnam have accused China over the past year of becoming increasingly aggressive in asserting its position.

On April 8 the Philippines found the eight Chinese fishing boats at Scarborough Shoal, and deployed its warship to arrest the crew.

China quickly deployed three civilian maritime vessels that took turns in blocking the warship.

In a bid to calm the situation, the Philippines pulled back its warship and replaced it with a coast guard vessel late last week, and the fishing vessels sailed away over the weekend.

A lone Philippine coast guard boat now remained in the area on Tuesday, facing off with two Chinese civilian ships. With Agence France-Presse