Dialogue resumes but tensions still mounting

PUBLISHED : Friday, 11 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 11 May, 2012, 12:00am


Philippine officials and the Chinese embassy in Manila are once again talking to each other over the stand-off at Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea, following a suspension lasting about two weeks, with Beijing demanding that Manila guarantee the safety of Chinese citizens ahead of anti-China protests today.

Tensions between the two countries over the territorial dispute are still running high, however, even as diplomats make goodwill gestures, with a newspaper run by the People's Liberation Army warning China will not let its sovereignty be usurped.

The row may intensify today, with a protest involving about 1,000 people planned by Philippine civil and political groups in Manila. Organisers plan similar protests at China's embassies and consulates in the United States, Canada, Australia and Italy and in other Asian capitals.

Professor Fu Kuncheng, of Xiamen University, warned that 'if Manila fails to properly handle the protest, and allows it to trigger anti-China sentiment ... tensions will inevitably intensify. This could prompt Beijing to take tougher action.'

Both countries have recently ratcheted up their rhetoric over the shoal, known as Huangyan Island in China and Panatag Shoal in the Philippines. With the stand-off having lasted more than a month, Chinese analysts say Beijing is considering a military response and economic retaliation.

The Philippines' Department of Foreign Affairs announced on April 27 there would be no diplomatic meetings with Chinese embassy staff, accusing the mission of relaying inaccurate information to Beijing.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said in Beijing yesterday that communication had been resumed, but that Beijing was still concerned about the actions taken by Manila, and about today's planned protest. 'China is paying close attention to the safety of the Chinese people and institutions in the Philippines, and demands that the Philippines provide effective assurances for their safety,' he said.

Ties between the two countries have plunged since the stand-off began on April 8, when the Philippine navy sought to arrest the crews of Chinese fishing boats near the shoal.

The PLA Daily warned yesterday that China would not 'blindly tolerate unreasonable tricks' on matters of territorial integrity, national dignity and social stability. 'We want to say that anyone's attempt to take away China's sovereignty over Huangyan Island will not be allowed by the Chinese government, people and armed forces,' it said. 'If one mistakes China's kindness for weakness and regards China as a 'paper dragon' ... he is terribly wrong.'

On Tuesday, Deputy Foreign Minister Fu Ying warned that Beijing was ready to respond to any escalation.

Professor Su Hao , from the China Foreign Affairs University, was quoted yesterday as saying Beijing was considering military action. 'The government says it is making every preparation, and it means that they are considering using military means to meet the challenge,' he said.

Antony Wong Dong, president of the Macau-based International Military Association, said Beijing may stage military drills.

Beijing said on Wednesday quarantine checks would be stepped up on fruit imported from the Philippines. Chinese travel agencies have suspended tours to the Philippines.