Sunday, July 15, 2012

Philippines offers help to China in dealing with grounded Chinese frigate

MANILA, Philippines -The Philippines is offering help to China in dealing with the reported grounding of a Chinese navy frigate off Halfmoon Shoal (Hasa-Hasa) in western Palawan province, the Department of Foreign Affairs said Saturday.

The Chinese Embassy in Manila said the frigate accidentally ran aground Wednesday night at Half Moon Shoal during a routine patrol, adding the accident caused no injuries to the ship's crew.

Rescue work by the Chinese Navy is underway, according to Chinese Embassy spokesman Zhang Hua, citing information from China's Ministry of National Defense.

"We need to find out what really happened with the Chinese frigate in our territory," Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez said.

"For now, we have instructed our embassy in Beijing to inform the Chinese Foreign Ministry that Philippine assets are willing to help the frigate get out of there," Hernandez told PNA in a text message.

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin has ordered the military's Western Command in Palawan to investigate the incident at the shoal, which the Philippines calls Hasa- Hasa and is located about 60 to 80 nautical miles northwest of Balabac municipality in the southernmost section of the frontier province.

Philippine navy patrol ships and Coast Guard vessels have been deployed to check the reported grounding and possibly render assistance, military officials said, adding the incident happened well within the country's territorial waters.

The reported grounding of the Chinese frigate came at a delicate time. China and the Philippines have been locked in a dispute over the Bajo de Masinloc or Panatag shoal off the northwestern Philippines.
Philippine and Chinese officials have committed to end the tense impasse over Bajo de Masinloc diplomatically and have been negotiating to end the conflict, which began last April 10.

Wrangling over the contested territories spilled over to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations annual meetings in Cambodia this week, preventing the 10-nation regional bloc from issuing a joint communique, a post-conference statement on common grounds reached on various issues traditionally made public after the annual ASEAN meetings.

Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario and his Vietnamese counterpart, Pham Binh Minh, separately insisted that the joint communique mention that their separate territorial disputes with China were discussed by the ASEAN foreign ministers during their meeting in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh last Monday.

Cambodia, which serves as ASEAN's chairman this year, however objected, arguing that the territorial disputes were bilateral concerns between Vietnam and the Philippines on the one hand and China on the other and should not be reflected in the joint communique.

Del Rosario said he argued that the communique should merely state the fact that the disputes were raised and discussed during the ASEAN foreign ministerial meeting.

Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong, however, still refused to include the paragraph on the disputes, causing the non-issuance of the statement.

It was the first time that the ASEAN has failed to issue such a communique in its 45-year history. The ASEAN decides by consensus, meaning just one of its 10 member countries can block a decision or proposal.

The Philippines deplored the unprecedented non-issuance of the communique.

Philippine and Vietnamese officials raised the territorial disputes in the ASEAN meetings as an urgent concern that could affect regional stability. China has opposed efforts to bring the disputes to any international fora, demanding that they be settled one-on-one between Beijing and each of the other rival claimants without intervention from outside forces, like the United States.

Cambodia, a close ally of China, has denied criticisms it has stuck to Beijing's position in the ASEAN meetings, saying it would serve as an impartial chairman of the grouping this year.-Interaksyon (July 14, 2012 11:39PM)

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