China Warned the Republic of the Philippines

China told its citizens Thursday they were not safe in the Philippines and its state media warned of war, as a month-long row over rival claims in the South China Sea threatened to spill out of control.

Chinese travel agencies announced they had suspended tours to the Philippines, under government orders, and the embassy in Manila advised its nationals already in the country to stay indoors ahead of planned protests.

“Avoid going out at all if possible, and if not, to avoid going out alone. If you come across any demonstrations, leave the area, do not stay to watch,” the embassy’s advisory said.

The safety alerts came as government-controlled media in China warned the country was prepared to go to war to end the stand-off over Scarborough Shoal – small islands in the South China Sea that both nations claim as their own.

“No matter how willing we are to discuss the issue, the current Philippine leadership is intent on pressing us into a corner where there is no other option left but the use of arms,” the China Daily said in an editorial.

“Manila is living in a fantasy world if it mistakes our forbearance for timidity.”

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said China was committed to a peaceful resolution but the editorial echoed other warnings in recent weeks in the state-run media that China was prepared to use its massive military advantage to crush the Philippines’ challenge for the shoal.

The two nations have had non-military vessels stationed at the shoal since April 8 in an effort to assert their sovereignty to the area.

The dispute began when Philippine authorities detected Chinese ships fishing there. They attempted to arrest the crew, but were blocked by Chinese surveillance vessels that were quickly deployed to the area.

The Philippines insists its claims to the area are backed by international law, as the shoal is well within its 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone.

The shoal sits about 230 kilometers (140 miles) from the Philippines’ main island of Luzon. The nearest major Chinese landmass is 1,200 kilometers northwest of the shoal, according to Filipino navy maps.

But China claims virtually all of the South China Sea as its territory, even waters close to the coasts of the Philippines and other Asian countries.

Taiwan, Brunei, Vietnam and Malaysia also claim parts of the sea, which is believed to sit atop vast oil and gas resources. The rival claims have for decades made the waters one of Asia’s potential military flashpoints.

The Philippines, which admits to having an extremely weak military, has repeatedly said it wants to solve the stand-off over the shoal through diplomatic means.

But it has also said it secured a pledge from the United States, its main military ally, to protect the Philippines from attacks in the South China Sea.

A coalition of Filipino activist groups is planning to hold rallies at Chinese embassies around the world on Friday to support the Philippines in the dispute.

Organizers are hoping thousands of people will attend what they expect to be the biggest of the rallies, in Manila, and the Chinese embassy’s safety alert was circulated chiefly to warn its nationals about that protest.

But Jackson Gan, a Filipino-Chinese businessman who is one the rally’s organizers, said there was no need for such a warning because the protest would not target individuals and there had been no inciting of violence.

“This is going to be peaceful. No burning of Chinese flags, just singing of patriotic songs and making our presence felt,” Gan told AFP.

Philippine foreign department spokesman Raul Hernandez also said Chinese nationals were in no danger of being attacked because of the diplomatic tensions.

“The Philippines remains a safe and welcoming country,” he told AFP, adding Friday’s protesters would not target Chinese people.

“There is nothing for our Chinese friends to be apprehensive about regarding this protest action.”

Philippines Ignores China Demand To Quit Shoal

Declaring “that’s our territory” and giving a warning to Chinese vessels to back off, the Philippine officials last Wednesday disregarded China’s demand to remove Filipino vessels from Panatag Shoal.

BRP Edsa, a Philippine Coast Guard search and rescue vessel, along with an archaeological survey mission aboard the MY Sarangani and a fishing boat was remained in the area, facing off two Chinese maritime surveillance vessels and a fishing boat.

Last Monday an order was demanded by China that all Filipino vessels should be out or clear the area, which then calls Huangyan Island and which is known internationally as Scarborough Shoal, and also sent an aircraft to buzz a Philippine fishing boat in the second, such incident happened since Saturday.

According to Communications Secretary Ricky Carandang, “We’re also telling their ships to do the same,” he told the reporters.  “That’s our territory and we’re also saying the same thing to their ships.”

Carandang said talks between the Philippines and China were continuing. “Tensions have not degenerated,” he said, and the fact “that not a shot has been fired is already a sign that the situation is not deteriorating.”

Arbitration call ignored

Philippines and China have decided to settle the argument diplomatically but have both asserted on their ownership of the shoal, extending an eight-day deadlock on the high seas.

Last Tuesday, Foreign Secretary Albert Del Rosario, asked China to bring the debate to the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea for negotiation. The Chinese embassy, though, disregarded the proposal and asked the Philippines to extract its vessels from the shoal “and restore peace and stability there.”

The latest standoff between Manila and Beijing over disputed islands in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) began on April 8 when a Philippine Navy plane spotted eight Chinese fishing boats in Panatag, a cluster of reefs and islands around a lagoon.

BRP Gregorio Del Pilar, the Philippine Navy flagship was transmitted to the area on April 10 and its officials boarded the fishing boats, but Chinese maritime surveillance vessel interposed. The fishing boats glided last Friday night.

The argument is just one of a countless claims over islands, reefs and shoals in the South China Sea that quarry china against the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan.

Conflict has increased in the past 2 years over worries that China is becoming more aggressive in its claims to the sea that overlaps shipping lanes between East Asia and Europe also the Middle East.

Even though supplicant countries have vowed to fix the territorial gaps peacefully, the arguments have vented in violence in the past which includes the 1988 when China and Vietnam collided in the Spratly Islands in a defiance that killed 64 Vietnamese soldiers. Many fear the disagreements that became Asia’s next flash point for armed conflict.

Vietnam held a maritime ceremony last Monday near the area where the event happened to remember the dead soldiers, state-controlled media reported.

Numerous rounds of talks have failed to end the impasse at Panatag, which is 872 kilometer from Hainan province, China’s next-door territory to the shoal.

Ancient Chinese shipwreck

Zhang Hua, Chinese embassy spokesperson, acknowledged that the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, or Unclos, permits countries to claim an exclusive economic zone but was then reported that Philippines could not exercise sovereignty on areas within those waters that are owned by other countries.

One ancient Chinese shipwreck could be found at Panatag, but the Philippine research ship has no right to rescue it, Zhang said. “We urge the archaeological vessel to leave the area immediately,” Zhang said in a statement.

‘We will not leave’

In an interview with the reporters last Wednesday, Defense Secretary Voltaire De Gazmin called on Filipinos to come together and let the world know that ”we are being bullied” by China.

Also on Wednesday, Bayan Muna Representatives Teodoro Casiño and Neri Colmenares filed a resolution condemning China and calling for an inquiry into the government’s failure to assert sovereignty over the shoal.

“We also do not want to go to war, but we must assert our sovereignty, through whatever means we can,” Casiño said.

On Tuesday, Gazmin said, “We will fight for what is ours. We are in the area and we will not leave while we continue the talks” between the DFA and Chinese authorities.