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|Standoff at Scarborough shoal|
|Friday, 18 May 2012 00:00|
Competing national claims for sovereignty over the Spratly islands and adjacent areas of the South China Sea are both complex and politically sensitive.
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The past twenty years have seen regular moves by Beijing to assert its claims, although Chinese strategy has been fairly cautious and incremental in nature. For instance, China's initial encroachment on Mischief Reef, situated 210 kilometres off the Philippine province of Palawan, began in 1998 with the installation of buoys and navigation markers, many of which were subsequently removed by the Philippine authorities.
In subsequent years however, and despite impotent protests from the Philippines, China built a large outpost on the reef, equipped with radar, communications antennae, fuel tanks, gun emplacements and accommodation blocks.
'Zhong Guo 75', and 'Zhong Guo 84', both patrol vessels of the China Maritime Surveillance (CMS) paramilitary force, reportedly obstructed Gregorio del Pilar as it closed on the fishing vessels. A stand off ensued, and since then both sides have maintained a substantial vessel presence near the shoal.Zhong Guo 75
So far, actions from both sides have been fairly low-key. Beijing is relying upon non-military vessels rather than PLA Navy warships to back up its claims. Manila, for its part, has replaced the 'Gregorio del Pilar' with the Australian-built Philippine Coast Guard search and rescue ships 'Pampanga' and 'Edsa II'. Reportedly, Chinese fishing vessels have returned to the scene, and a Philippine fishery research vessel is now also nearby.
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