Philippines withdraws warship from China standoff | News | DW | 12.04.2012
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Philippines withdraws warship from China standoff

The Philippines has pulled back its biggest warship from a tense standoff with Chinese vessels. The two countries are trying to avoid an escalation in the conflict over disputed territory in the South China Sea.

Manila withdrew the warship and instead deployed a coast guard vessel to the area, said Philippines Foreign Minister Albert Del Rosario on Thursday, adding that China had sent a ship from Beijing's fisheries bureau.

"We're watching developments and at the same time we're pursuing the diplomatic track," Del Rosario said. "We're moving forward but it's still a work in progress."

Diplomats were apparently trying to negotiate a pragmatic solution to the standoff that would allow both sides to save face.

The conflict began on Sunday when a Philippine Navy plane spotted eight Chinese fishing boots anchored in a lagoon at the Scarborough Shoal, which lies off the coast of the northwestern tip of the Philippine province.

A map of the South China Sea

Many countries have conflicting claims in the area

The Philippine military then sent its largest warship, the BRP Gregorio del Pilar, to the area and searched the boats.

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 that 12 fishing boats had taken shelter in the lagoon from bad weather and were blocked from leaving it by a Philippine "gunboat."

Manila says the shoal is an "integral part of Philippine territory," while China claims possession of the wider maritime area.

The area is thought be rich in oil and gas reserves.

ncy/ng (AFP, dpa, AP)