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MANILA - (UPDATE: 3:21 PM) The Chinese embassy here on Tuesday claimed that the private Philippine-registered archeological ship MY Sarangani is salvaging an ancient Chinese wreck ship in Scarborough Shoal and has demanded that it leave the area. It also reiterated its call for the Philippine government ship to leave the shoal that is 124 miles off Masinloc, Zambales.
The statement from Chinese embassy spokesman Hua Zhang came a day after the Philippine side submitted another diplomatic protest, this time on the “harassment” by Chinese surveillance ships of the private yacht which has an archeological team of nine French nationals on board.
Hua Zhang said China owns the sunken ship. “In accordance with relevant international conventions and Chinese laws, it is illegal to conduct salvage activities without the permission of the Chinese government. We urge the archeological vessel to leave the area immediately,” he said.
The Chinese embassy spokesman also revealed the option that the two sides had earlier agreed upon to lower the tension in the area. “In view of the complex situation in that area, which involved Navy ship, public service vessels, and fishing boats, China's fishing boats left on April 13 in order to help defuse the situation,” he said. The Chinese reference to “public service vessels” pertain to the maritime surveillance ships of which China has placed orders for at least six dozens more.
But China complains about the Philippine ship not withdrawing. This, together with the presence of the private archeological ship in the area, “raised further grave concerns of the Chinese side on the situation there.”
Answering emailed questions from the media, Hua Zhang said the additional Chinese surveillance ship that moved to Scarborough on April 14 is part of China’s “legitimate patrols for law enforcement” in the shoal.
He blamed the deployment of the Philippines’ only warship BRP Gregorio del Pilar to the area for the increased Chinese presence in Scarborough which prompted Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario to call on April 14 for “a deeper element of trust from our Chinese friends.”
“The incident is resulted from the infringement by the Philippine Navy Flagship Gregorio del Pilar, and the Philippines' coast guard vessels still remain there. In this context, the Chinese public service vessels have to stay there to watch out the situation,” Hua Zhang said.
“We urge the Philippine side to withdraw all of their vessels from Huangyan Island area, and restore peace and stability there,” he added.
On the afternoon of April 16, Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez said two Chinese surveillance ships, as well as the Philippine Coast Guard BRP Edsa, remain in the shoal.
China also vowed to go after the Chinese fishermen for the endangered maritime species found by the Philippine authorities on board the Chinese fishing boats. The Philippines has said that Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species bans the harvest of giant clams, sharks, corals, and other maritime flora and fauna.
“The relevant Chinese authorities will, as always, administer, investigate, and prosecute any violations in accordance with above-mentioned laws,” he said.
China: Philippines did not claim Scarborough until 1997
Hua Zhang reiterated the Chinese position that Scarborough Shoal is China’s territory and has been a traditional fishing ground of Chinese fishermen for generations.
“It is China that first discovered this island, gave it the name, incorporated it into its territory, and exercised jurisdiction over it,” he said.
On the other hand, Hua Zhang said, the Philippines has not identified the Scarborough Shoal as part of its territory until 1997. He said the Treaty of Paris(1898), The Treaty of Washington (1900), and the Treaty with Great Britain (1930), which defined Philippine territory, did not refer to it as Philippine territory.
Citing international law, including United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), Hua Zhang said “the Philippines' claim of the juristiction rights and sovereignty rights over Scarborough Shoal with the arguments of Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is groundless.”
“UNCLOS allows coastal states to claim a 200-nautical-mile EEZ, but coastal states have no rights to infringe on the inherent territory and sovereignty of other countries,” he said.
On the Philippines’ claim that Scarborough Shoal is nearest it, China said “geographical proximity has long been dismissed by the international law and practice as the principle of the solution of territory ownership.”
Like the Philippines, China said it wants to maintain peace and stability in the area, “with fishing undisturbed.”
Despite differences over the sovereignty of Scarborough Shoal, the two parties continue to talk to each other, agreeing to seek a diplomatic solution and “not [to] do anything to complicate or aggravate the situation,” China said.
“Departing from our good will of developing friendly relations with the Philippines, we are ready to engage in further discussions with the Philippine side and try our best to settle the incident properly,” he said.