‘China won’t abandon Panatag Shoal’

MANILA, Philippines - Despite the reported departure of Chinese vessels from Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal off Zambales, China will still not give up its claim over the area, a defense expert said yesterday.

“China will not abandon Panatag Shoal after exerting efforts to establish control of the area despite international pressure against it,” Rommel Banlaoi, vice president of the Philippine Association of Chinese Studies, told The STAR.

He said that leaving Panatag Shoal will run counter to China’s current strategy of maintaining control and influence in maritime areas that China considers an integral part of its sovereign territories.

The STAR reported on Thursday that Chinese vessels had left the Philippine-owned shoal, located 124 nautical miles from Zambales.

A senior security official said the latest maritime and aerial monitoring has not detected any sign of the Chinese ships within the immediate vicinity of Panatag or within its 75-nautical mile radius. The Chinese intruders reportedly left the area last Tuesday.

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin confirmed last Friday that the Chinese ships had left the shoal due to bad weather.

“I guess this is really what they do during inclement weather,” Gazmin said.

The defense chief, however, declined to comment when asked if the government has measures to bar the Chinese intruders from returning to the shoal.

Banlaoi, however, said the Philippines could only address the issue through negotiation.

“The Philippines cannot prevent China from establishing full control of Panatag Shoal except through amicable agreement and mutual understanding,” he said.

Sources said the Chinese ships that have intruded into Ayungin Shoal, an area located 105.77 nautical miles from Palawan, have also been pulled.

Both Ayungin and Panatag Shoals are well within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

Chinese occupation of Panatag Shoal started on April 10, 2012, when surveillance vessels from Beijing prevented the Philippine Navy from arresting Chinese fishermen who were caught gathering endangered marine species.

The presence of Chinese intruders had displaced local fishermen who could not go near the shoal for fear of being bullied.

The Philippines has also decried the incursion of Chinese vessels in Ayungin Shoal last May, calling it a provocative act and a violation of international law.

China claims virtually the entire West Philippine Sea while the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei and Taiwan have overlapping claims in the area.

Beijing has been shoring up its maritime presence in the region, raising concerns among other claimant countries.

It has built structures in Mischief Reef or Panganiban Reef – about 70 nautical miles from Palawan and Subi Reef – an islet 12 nautical miles southwest of the Philipine-occupied Pag-asa Island in the disputed Spratlys.



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