MANILA, Philippines - Two more Chinese ships have been seen at Scarborough shoal amid the simmering dispute between the Philippines and China over its ownership, a security official said Thursday.
There are now a total of 15 vessels in the waters of the shoal as of Thursday morning, according to the source.
The Chinese ships consist of 4 maritime surveillance vessels, 3 fisheries law enforcement command (FLEC) ships, and 8 fishing vessels.
The Philippines, meanwhile, still has 2 ships in the area. A Philippine Coast Guard search and rescue vessel and a Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources ship remain in the shoal's waters.
“There is no report of utility boats in the area. I believe that there is a prevailing inclement weather in the area. It's not appropriate to go on fishing at this time,” the source said. “There are no (Chinese) utility boats there, meaning they are not fishing.”
China and the Philippines have agreed to show restraint in their tense standoff over the disputed shoal, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said on Tuesday.
He had held a brief meeting with his Chinese counterpart in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh on Monday during which both sides agreed to tone down the rhetoric and find "a peaceful resolution" to the spat.
"We agreed on three points: to restrain our actions, to restrain our statements so that it does not escalate, and then we continue to open our line of communication until we come up with a peaceful resolution to the case," Gazmin told reporters.
Gazmin made the remarks after attending talks with the defense ministers of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Phnom Penh.
Relations between Beijing and Manila have plunged with both sides pressing their conflicting claims to the Scarborough Shoal.
The two countries have had ships posted around the shoal since early April, when Chinese vessels prevented a Philippine Navy ship from arresting Chinese fishermen.
China has also impounded Philippine fruit shipments and warned tourists against visiting the Philippines.
China and several ASEAN nations have rival claims to uninhabited islands in the South China Sea, which is believed to be rich in hydrocarbons and straddles strategic shipping lanes vital to global trade. - with a report from Agence France-Presse