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Navy deployment plan in disputed shoal 'dropped after US advice'.

Delfin Lorenzana: disclosure

DPA/Manila

The Philippine defence secretary said yesterday he had thought about deploying a navy contingent to a disputed territory in the South China Sea in 2016 but dropped the plan after the United States called for restraint. Delfin Lorenzana said he spoke about the plan with the Philippine Navy before an international arbitral tribunal ruled in July 2016 that China's claim over almost the entire South China Sea had no legal or historical basis. Lorenzana said he wanted to send a "small force" to Scarborough Shoal, 230 kilometres from the Philippines' north-western coast, to "drive away the Chinese" from the area. But one week before the arbitral ruling, he got a call from his US counterpart, former defence secretary Robert Gates, who asked him to avoid any provocative action. "I got this call from (the then) defence secretary Gates of the United States and what he said was, 'The ruling will come out soon and we think it is in your favour,' and he said, 'Please exercise restraint,'" Lorenzana told a forum on the South China Sea. When the ruling was announced, President Rodrigo Duterte called for a cabinet meeting to discuss the next steps: "It was decided that, let us do a soft landing," Lorenzana said. "(President Duterte) said we should not be overly excited because we might offend China," Lorenzana said. Scarborough Shoal -- also known to the Chinese as Huangyan Dao or Democracy Reef -- was the site of a stand-off between Philippine and Chinese government ships in April 2012. China later took control of the area, often chasing away Filipino fishermen. The incident prompted the Philippine government in January 2013 to file an arbitration case against China, questioning Beijing's sweeping claims to the disputed sea. In July 2016, the international tribunal ruled that China has no legal or historic basis to its claim to the South China Sea, a key shipping lane believed to be rich in mineral and marine resources, which are also claimed by Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei. It added that China's actions at Scarborough "violated the Philippines' sovereign rights in its exclusive economic zone." Last year, the Philippine government said China had eased its blockade on Filipino fishermen in the disputed waters since the ruling. But the fishermen have reported various encounters with Chinese patrols. Earlier in the month, a television news crew from Manila's GMA Network was blocked by the Chinese coastguard from entering the shoal, locally called Panatag, to film a documentary. The team was told that without permission from the Chinese coastguard, they could not stay and film the documentary, saying that they were in the "sea area of the People's Republic of China."

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Publication:Gulf Times (Doha, Qatar)
Geographic Code:0PACI
Date:Nov 24, 2018
Words:459
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