SOUTH CHINA SEA

Vietnam and Philippines to hold sporting contests on Spratlys

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 05 June, 2014, 11:09pm
UPDATED : Friday, 06 June, 2014, 1:12am
AFP

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Troops from the Philippines and Vietnam planned a round of sports diplomacy on contested islands in the South China Sea, the Philippines said, as tensions worsen with China.

Basketball, beach volleyball and tug-of-war games would be held this weekend on tiny islands that were claimed by the nations to show that rivals could still be friends, Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said.

"This is camaraderie … a friendly gesture," he said.

The games will be held in the Spratly archipelago, coveted by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, Taiwan and China which calls them the Nansha Islands. All the claimants except for Brunei have for decades occupied islands in the group in a bid to block the others.

It is part of a broader struggle for control over the South China Sea, which has enormous trade and military significance as a maritime link between the Pacific and Indian oceans.

China claims nearly all of the sea, which is also believed to contain vast deposits of oil and gas.

The Philippines and Vietnam have voiced growing alarm in recent years at what they perceive as China's bullying tactics in staking its claims.

Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung said last month that China had become a serious threat to peace after a Chinese oil rig was placed in the Paracel archipelago.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino expressed concern at what he said were photographs showing more Chinese ships in the Spratlys that he feared could be used to reclaim land and convert reefs into China-held islands.

He said the vessels were similar to ships China used recently to turn another reef in the Spratlys into a tiny island that the Philippines believed could eventually support an airstrip.

As the disputes with China have intensified, the Philippines and Vietnam have sought to share information about their common foe's actions.

This weekend's planned sports are intended to continue fostering a warming of relationships between the countries.

The games will be a tiny affair, with only a small number of soldiers taking part.