MANILA, Philippines (UPDATE 1) - China said it has withdrawn two ships from Scarborough shoal as proof that their government is not escalating the territorial dispute.
In a statement, the Chinese Embassy in Manila said that two Chinese ships left Scarborough shoal (Huangyan Island in Chinese) Sunday afternoon, leaving only one Chinese Maritime Surveillance Ship in the area “for its law enforcement mission.”
The Chinese Embassy said that the withdrawal of two Chinese ships is proof of China’s readiness “to settle this incident through friendly diplomatic consultations” and that it is “not escalating” the situation.
“Please kindly note that yesterday (April 22) afternoon, the Chinese Fishery Administration Ship 'Yuzheng 310' and one of the two Chinese Maritime Surveillance Ships with bow number 084 have already left the Huangyan Island area. Now there is only one Maritime Surveillance Ship remaining at the Huangyan Island area for its law enforcement mission," said Zhang Hua, spokesperson of the Chinese Embassy in the Philippines.
"As we always said, China is ready to settle this incident through friendly diplomatic consultations. The withdrawal of the two ships proves once again China is not escalating the situation as some people said, but de-escalating the situation."
PH to keep presence in Scarborough Shoal
Meantime, President Aquino said the Philippines will maintain its presence in Scarborough shoal as a way to assert its sovereignty. He said a Coast Guard vessel, at a minimum, will remain in the shoal, as a way of “showing the [Philippine] flag” in the area.
He added that a vessel of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources will also stay in the area.
“We’re still maintaining our presence,” Aquino told reporters.
Aquino said China’s naval exercises with Russia has no bearing on the situation at the Scarborough shoal but added that there is a need to settle the dispute through international arbitration bodies.
“The Russian exercise does not really have anymore bearing than what is already there. By themselves (China) napalaki na nila e. So does it add? No. But it does reaffirm that there is need to go through the various international bodies to settle the dispute. ‘Yung dispute has to be settled. It can’t be left hanging forever after,” Aquino said.
Showing reporters a map, Aquino reiterated the Philippines’ concern over China’s nine-dash line that claims the entire South China Sea as theirs.
“Look at what they are claiming. How can the others not be fearful of what is transpiring? Will this become an exclusive lane?” Aquino said.