Manila accused of 'provoking' public
Teddy Ng, Alan Robles in Manila, Mimi Lau in Guangzhou and Julian Ryall in Tokyo
Not a shot has been fired, but a war of words is under way in the South China Sea.
While diplomats manoeuvre to find a solution to the four-week stand-off in the waters surrounding the Scarborough Shoal, nationalist sentiments are rising as Chinese and Filipinos trade barbs online. The Foreign Ministry yesterday accused Philippine officials of 'provoking public feelings' in China with remarks about the situation at Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea.
And a commentary issued by Xinhua said that while China wanted to maintain good ties with its neighbours, its bottom line on its core interests should not be challenged.
Deputy Foreign Minister Fu Ying warned a day earlier that Beijing was ready to respond to any escalation of a month-long stand-off at the shoal, known as Huangyan Island in China and Panatag Shoal in the Philippines.
Philippine Defence Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said yesterday he had received an assurance that the United States would protect his country from attack in the South China Sea. But Philippine presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said Manila did not intend to let tensions escalate.
'So far we have not done anything to provoke and the instruction from the president is very clear. We do not wish to escalate tensions,' Lacierda said.
Rhetoric from both sides of the sovereignty dispute has grown since the row erupted on April 8, when officers from the Philippines' largest warship tried to arrest the crews of Chinese fishing boats near the shoal.
Meanwhile, Japan's defence ministry said that five People's Liberation Army Navy ships were spotted steaming 650 kilometres southwest of Okinawa on Sunday. A ministry spokesman said yesterday that they comprised two guided missile destroyers, two frigates and an amphibious landing ship, designed to put troops onto an island.
Taiwanese Deputy Defence Minister Chao Shih-chang said Taipei was aware of the presence of the ships in waters southeast of Taiwan, but he believed they were only involved in normal training.
In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei urged Manila to 'get back on the right track'.
'We have noted that the Philippine side has repeatedly made strongly worded remarks about the incident on Huangyan Island, which have provoked public feelings and severely undermined the atmosphere of bilateral relations,' he said. 'The Philippines instigated the Philippine public and Philippine people living overseas to stage demonstrations against China, which have aroused strong responses and concern among Chinese living overseas.'
However, Hong said China supported co-operation between the China National Offshore Oil Corporation and a Philippine firm in exploring for gas at Reed Bank in the Spratly Islands.
The commercial counsellor's office of the Chinese embassy in the Philippines issued an urgent notice on Tuesday night to Chinese firms and their staff to stay alert and take safety precautions in view of a rally against China in Manila tomorrow.
Xinhua said yesterday most mainland travel agencies had suspended their tour groups to the Philippines, citing safety concerns.
Separately, the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine posted a notice on its website saying it would strengthen checks of fruit imported from the Philippines because many shipments had bacteria problems.
Some mainland internet users said military action was needed to defend the national interest.
'We must respond with force. Being tough is the only way to deal with a hoodlum country,' one microblogger wrote.
Another said: 'The best way is to kill one to warn a hundred as all of those South China Sea countries are watching closely how China is handling the Philippines and exactly how determined we are.'
Filipino internet users responded in kind. On Chinasmack.com, someone with the alias 'Panget' (ugly) wrote: 'The red lines ... show the awakening dragon is too hungry for power and out of its greed ... wants to take part of the sovereign territory of a peaceful country.'
Some remarks were sardonic. Musician and comic Jim Paredes tweeted that 'since China and Taiwan are now claiming Scarborough Shoal, we should now rightfully claim Statue Square in Hong Kong'.
Ju Hailong, a Southeast Asian affairs expert at Jinan University, said China had expressed its sincerity in peacefully resolving the dispute by withdrawing two maritime administration vessels last month.
'The Philippines still sticks to the confrontational path, and forces China to put all its cards on the table.'