As tensions prevailed with Philippines over the disputed South China Sea, China on Thursday asked Manila to remove its naval vessels "immediately" from a contentious lagoon where ships of the two countries were locked in an uneasy standoff.
"We hope the Philippine vessels will immediately leave the waters," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin told a media briefing here today in response to question that the Philippines had pulled out its biggest naval ship away from from Huangyan Island, the disputed remote lagoon in the South China Sea.
Liu made the remarks in reference to the tense standoff in the waterway between Chinese fishermen and vessels from the Philippines Navy.
China has claimed sovereignty over Huangyan Island and appealed to Philippines to stop their illegal activities in the area.
China has been maintaining communication with the Philippines via diplomatic channels, he said, underlining that China hopes the incident will not be further aggravated.
The spokesman said China's law-enforcement ships were sent there to safeguard the safety of Chinese fishermen and vessels, as well as their legitimate fishing activities.
According to the administration, all the Chinese fishermen involved are from the country's southern Hainan province, and they are currently all safe and emotionally stable.
Reports from Manila said Philippines has pulled out its largest vessel away from the disputed lagoon in the South China Sea. The two countries, meanwhile, continued negotiations.
The Chinese Embassy in Manila lodged a protest on Wednesday ith the Philippine government complaining of harassment of
Chinese fishermen by its navy in a lagoon off Huangyan Island ointly claimed by both.
The Chinese embassy reiterated China's sovereignty over Huangyan Island, and urged the Philippine side to stop mmediately their illegal activities and leave the area, tate-run Xinhua news agency reported.
According to the Chinese embassy, 12 Chinese fishing oats were seeking shelter on the lagoon due to harsh weather onditions when a Philippine Naval gunboat blocked its entrance and sent 12 Philippine soldiers, six of whom were armed, to the lagoon. They allegedly harassed the Chinese fishermen.
The South China Sea is home to a myriad of competing territorial claims between China and most of ASEAN nations, including the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan.
China insists it has sovereign rights to all of the South China Sea, even waters close to the coast of other countries and hundreds of kilometres from its own landmass.