2012 South China Sea Developments
On 11-12 April 2012, it was reported that a Philippine warship, the BRP Gregorio Del Pilar (which had only arrived in the Philippines in August 2011), two Chinese government ships (reported to have been surveillance vessels), and a number of Chinese fishing boats had become engaged in a standoff in area of the Scarborough Shoal. The Philippines claimed that the Chinese fishermen, spotted by maritime patrol aircraft first on 8 April 2012, were operating inside their exclusive economic zone and were catching sealife listed as endangered by the Philippines. The Philippines argued that the area was well within the 370 kilometer exclusive economic zone designated by international law. China on the other hand claimed sovereignty over practically the entire South China Sea, including the contested area. Philippine authorities aboard the BRP Gregorio Del Pilar had been blocked by the Chinese government vessels in their subsequent attempts to arrest the Chinese fishermen.
Late on 12 April 2012, the BRP Gregorio Del Pilar was relieved by the BRP Edsa. On 19 April 2012, the Chinese deployed the Yuzheng 310, the most advanced fisheries patrol vessel operated by Chinese authorities, to join the standoff with the Philippines. Chinese fishermen were reported to have continued to operate in the area under the protection of the larger Chinese ships, though some of the fishing boats involved in the inciting incident had returned to their port on Hainan Island.
On 23 April 2012, the Chinese announced that the Yuzheng 310 and one of the two surveillance ships (hull number 084) had departed the disputed Scarborough Shoal. The other surveillance ship would remain in the area in a "law enforcement" capacity. The Philippines also announced that at least one Coast Guard vessel would remain in the area.
On 30 April 2012, it was reported that Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario had broken off talks with the Chinese Ambassador to his country, Ma Keqing, on April 25. Secretary del Rosario broke off talks because of what was described by Philippine officials as "incomplete, inaccurate, and misleading" information sent to Beijing by Ma regarding the standoff in area of the Scarborough Shoal that had begun earlier in April 2012. Ma reportedly told Beijing that the Philippines had violated an agreement to withdraw its ships from the disputed waters. Chinese officials denied the accusations.
In a press conference in Malacanang on 3 May 2012, Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda said it is wrong to assume that the Philippines will end up losing the shoal. Insisting the country’s sovereign rights over the Panatag Shoal, Lacierda said the Aquino government wouldn’t allow the Chinese to put up garrisons there as what they did in Mischief Reef.
Chinese officials had ramped up warnings in recent weeks about the territorial dispute, with state-backed newspapers warning of "small-scale war" if the Philippines does not back off. Vice Foreign Minister Fu Ying said on 8 May 2012 that China was not optimistic about the situation concerning Huangyan Island, and the country is fully prepared to respond to anything the Philippine side does to escalate the situation.
As of 12 May 2012, a Philippines Coast Guard vessel continued to face off with 2 Chinese ships. The standoff had begun in April 2012 when China sent 2 maritime surveillance ships to prevent the Philippines from arresting Chinese fishermen off Panatag Shoal / Huangyan Island / Scarborough Shoal. In a punitive action by the Chinese government, 1,200 containers of bananas from the Philippines were held in customs because of what authorities say are "quarantine concerns".
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