The Philippines has said that Beijing and Manila will find a diplomatic solution to a naval standoff in the South China Sea. The two countries are at odds over possession of a small shoal and other landmasses in the sea.
Manila said its largest warship was in a tense standoff with two Chinese surveillance vessels on Wednesday. The incident took place at the disputed Scarborough Shoal, a rock formation in the South China Sea.
Philippine Foreign Minister Albert Del Rosario summoned the Chinese ambassador in Manila, Ma Keqing, early on Wednesday, telling her the Navy would enforce Philippine laws.
"The ambassador of China took the view that they have full sovereignty over the Scarborough Shoal," said Del Rosario. Despite the impasse, he said, "We resolved to seek a diplomatic solution to the issue."
The Philippine Foreign Ministry said that on Sunday, a navy plane spotted eight Chinese fishing vessels anchored in a lagoon at the shoal, which lies off the coast of the northwestern Philippine province of Zambales.
The Philippine military then sent its largest warship, the BRP Gregorio del Pilar, to the area.
Search of vessels, arrests hampered
A Navy team inspected the boats, where it found corals, giant clams and live sharks that had been collected.
Manila says two Chinese maritime surveillance ships later positioned themselves between the warship and the fishing boats preventing arrests of the Chinese fishermen.
The Chinese Embassy said in a statement that 12 fishing boats had taken shelter in a lagoon from bad weather and were blocked from leaving the lagoon by a Philippine "gunboat." It ordered Manila to stop their "illegal activities" and leave the area.
Manila says the shoal is an "integral part of Philippine territory," while China claims the wider maritime area.
The dispute is only the most recent in a region where maritime boundaries often appear to be blurred. Last year, the Philippines accused China of allowing vessels to intrude into other contested stretches of sea.
They include the Spratly Islands, which - as well as being claimed by China - are also subject to claims by Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam. The islands are thought to be rich in oil and gas.
ncy, rc/tj (AP, Reuters)