Manila recalls Beijing ambassador amid row over Scarborough Shoal

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 06 September, 2013, 4:13am


The Philippines has recalled its ambassador to China for consultations, the foreign affairs department said yesterday amid fresh tensions in a seething maritime territorial row.

Ambassador Erlinda Basilio flew back to Manila as the defence department this week accused China of laying 75 concrete blocks on disputed territory in the South China Sea, foreign affairs department spokesman Raul Hernandez said.

"She was asked to come home for consultations, and she will (be in Manila) for the next few days," Hernandez said.

He said Basilio was advising Philippine officials on how to handle the alleged Chinese actions at the Scarborough Shoal, a rocky outcrop about 220 kilometres off the main Philippine island of Luzon, within the country's internationally recognised exclusive economic zone. The outcrop, which China calls Huangyan Island, is about 650 kilometres from Hainan , the nearest major Chinese land mass.

Asked if Manila would lodge a diplomatic protest or undertake other options, Hernandez said: "We are still studying the matter."

The Philippine foreign ministry earlier said President Benigno Aquino had called off a planned trip to China for a trade fair after Chinese authorities imposed conditions on the trip.

The concrete blocks have raised concerns in Manila that China could be planning construction, as it did on Philippine-claimed Mischief Reef in another area of the sea in 1995.

Foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said it was the Philippines which was causing the problems. "The Scarborough Shoal is China's intrinsic territory. The Philippines should respect China's sovereignty," he told a daily news briefing.

"If the Philippines really is paying attention to and cares about the Code of Conduct for the South China Sea, it ought to earnestly stand by, and put into effect the Declaration of Conduct, and create a good environment and conditions for talks on the Code of Conduct, and not make trouble out of nothing and cause incidents."

On Wednesday, he rejected the Philippine allegations of block-laying.

China claims most of the South China Sea, including waters close to the coasts of its neighbours.

Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam also have competing claims to parts of the South China Sea, and the rivalries have been a source of tension for decades.

The Philippines engaged China in a tense stand-off at Scarborough Shoal last year.

Manila has said the Chinese have effectively taken control of the shoal by stationing vessels there and preventing Philippine fishermen from entering the area.

In January the government asked a United Nations tribunal to rule on the validity of the Chinese claims to most of the sea. China has rejected the move, but has said it wants to solve disputes through bilateral negotiations with concerned parties.