The Philippine government said on Saturday that a Chinese warship entered an area it claims in the South China Sea and ran aground on a shoal, as tensions continue between the two countries over a separate territorial dispute.
Malacanang also admitted that the government is disappointed over the failure of Southeast Asian diplomats to come up with a Joint Communique on how to deal with the territorial dispute involving China during a meeting in Cambodia.
Foreign affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez said on Saturday that Manila wants Beijing to explain why the Chinese frigate became stuck on Half Moon Shoal, about 110 kilometers (70 miles) from the western province of Palawan.
“We need to find out what really happened with the Chinese frigate in our territory,” Hernandez said.
He said the Philippine Embassy in Beijing has been instructed to inform China’s Foreign Ministry that Manila is “willing to help the frigate get out of there.”
Defense department spokesman Peter Paul Galvez said a military aircraft spotted six other Chinese ships near the stricken vessel on Saturday.
“We are seeking a clarification from the Chinese what these ships are doing in the area, though it can be assumed that these are out for rescue,” he said.
China’s Foreign Ministry said in a brief statement on its website that no one was injured when the accident happened Wednesday as the ship was patrolling near the shoal.
Brigadier general Elmer Amon, deputy chief of the Philippine military’s Western Command, said the frigate appeared to be in distress and a Coast Guard vessel had moved within sight of the ship to provide any assistance.
He said the outcropping, called Hasa Hasa Shoal in the Philippines, is well within Manila’s territory.
Earlier this year, Manila and Beijing became locked in a tense months-long naval standoff at Scarborough (Panatag) Shoal, another area claimed by both nations in the South China Sea, after the Philippines accused Chinese fishermen of poaching in its waters.
Scarborough is about 710 kilometers (435 miles) north of Half Moon and 235 kilometers (145 miles) off the province of Zambales northwest of Manila.
Vietnam has protested a recent announcement by the China National Offshore Oil Corp. opening nine oil and gas lots for international bidders in areas overlapping with existing Vietnamese exploration blocks.
Vietnam said the lots lie entirely within its 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone and continental shelf.
The disputed South China Sea waters host about a third of the world’s cargo traffic, rich fishing grounds and vast oil and gas reserves.
Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte, in an interview over dzRB Radyo ng Bayan, said Asean’s failure to come up with a joint statement over issues affecting the region was the first time in the 45 years of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).
The secretary-general of Asean, Surin Pitsuwan of Thailand, said the Philippines and Vietnam wanted the statement to include a reference to a recent standoff between China and the Philippines at a shoal in South China Sea claimed by both countries.
“Well, we share the disappointment of also the other foreign ministers I believe there have been – you have seen several statements from different foreign ministers that attended the meeting in Cambodia,” she said.
Valte refused to give any statement as to the next step that the government will take over the development in Asean.
China opposes efforts to bring the South China Sea disputes into any international arena for discussions, arguing the conflicts should be tackled only between Beijing and each of the rival claimants. Vietnamese and Philippine diplomats have criticised Cambodia, which has close ties with China, for towing Beijing’s line in the meetings in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh.
Asean’s members announced earlier this week that they had drafted a set of rules governing maritime rights and navigation in the South China Sea, and procedures for when governments disagree.
The standoff between China and the Philippines at the Scarborough Shoal began when the Philippines accused Chinese fishermen of poaching in its exclusive economic zone, including the shoal. Both sides sent government ships to the area.
The Philippines has withdrawn its vessels from the area, but Chinese government ships have remained at the shoal, which Beijing claims to have owned since ancient times.