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Philippine military accuses China in sea spat

MANILA, March 3, 2011 (AFP) – The Philippine military Thursday accused the Chinese navy of entering Manila’s waters in the South China Sea and ordering an oil exploration vessel to leave.

A Filipino military aircraft was scrambled to the area off the Reed Bank, west of the Philippine island of Palawan to investigate the alleged incident on Wednesday, and the Chinese vessels left, Major-General Juancho Sabban said.

The area in question is a disputed part of the South China Sea, where there are multiple competing claims of sovereignty.

“The Chinese patrol boats approached the explorers, who were well within our territory, and ordered them to stop and leave the area because it’s supposedly Chinese territory,” Sabban told reporters.

“We knew it was well within our territory, so we sent a plane there to verify these reports, but the Chinese patrol boats left, presumably after their crews saw our reaction.

“It is our territory, so they have no right to tell anybody to get out of there.”

No armed confrontation took place and the oil survey crew was unharmed, he added.

The Reed Bank lies between the Philippines’ offshore Malampaya gas field and the disputed Spratly archipelago, a South China Sea chain claimed in whole or in part by Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.

The claimants have been involved in several similar incidents in the past.

In one of the most high-profile incidents, the Philippine government protested the occupation by China of Philippine-claimed Mischief Reef in 1995, but Beijing brushed off calls to dismantle the structures it erected there.

Three years earlier China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which includes the Philippines and three other Spratly claimants, signed a pact to resolve territorial disputes in the area peacefully.

Sabban said the oil survey vessel was hired from a private firm that he did not name.

A Chinese embassy spokesman did not return calls for comment on the alleged incident.

Energy ministry spokesman Joel Jorge Gaviola told AFP it was checking the report.

He said he could not immediately name the company that had been granted a service contract by the government to explore for oil in the area.

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