Philippines asks China to explain ship incident

MANILA Fri Mar 4, 2011 9:37am IST

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MANILA (Reuters) - The Philippines has demanded an explanation from China over an incident in a disputed area in the South China Sea in which it says two Chinese patrol boats threatened to ram a survey ship.

The incident occurred on Wednesday when the Philippine survey ship was conducting seismic tests in the Reed Bank, which China also claims as part of its territorial waters in the South China Sea.

"The Philippines has sought an explanation from the Chinese embassy," foreign ministry spokesman, Ed Malaya, said on Friday.

"To avoid further confrontation, the (Philippine) vessel moved away from its position," he said, adding the vessel resumed its normal activities on Thursday.

The Chinese embassy in Manila told Reuters it would issue a statement later in the day.

Lieutenant-General Juancho Sabban, commander of military forces in Western Philippines, said the Chinese ships had shadowed and threatened to ram the survey vessel.

They left the area after the Philippines sent two aircraft to the area in response to a request for help from the survey ship.

"The survey ship was within the Philippine territory," Sabban said, noting it was inside the county's 200-mile exclusive economic zone.

China and the Philippines are among six states laying claim on Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, a territory believed to be sitting on rich deposits of oil, gas and minerals. Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan are the other claimant states.

In 2002, China and the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) signed a non-binding code of conduct to restrain claimant-states from conducting military activities and other provocative actions that could raise tension in the area.

The two sides are also holding talks on a set of guidelines to implement an informal code of conduct in the South China Sea, a step towards a formal and legal agreement in the disputed territories.

China and the Philippines are also disputing sovereignty over the Scarborough shoal in the South China Sea near the former U.S. navy base in Subic on the main Philippine island of Luzon.

(Reporting by Manny Mogato: Editing by Rosemarie Francisco and Jonathan Thatcher)

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