The maritime row between China and the Philippines in the South China Sea has flared up as Manila with tacit United States backing lined up its naval ships at the disputed island to challenge Chinese claims over it, leaving a perplexed Beijing to mull military options.
Besides deploying two naval ships after intense military drills with US Marines close to the uninhabited island, Manila has geared up to seek international arbitration asserting that the Scarborough Shoal, called by China as Huangyan Island is part of its Exclusive Economic Zone, (EEZ) as it is located within the its 200 nautical mile radius.
The sudden palpable tensions between the two countries were expected to dominate the annual US-China strategic and economic dialogue here on May 3, which would be attended among others by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Philippine officials currently in Washington to seek US support said that they intend to raise the territorial dispute with China with the US in defence talks scheduled for Monday.
US which has a defence treaty with the Philippines has not taken any overt stand on the dispute.
China, which claims the 3.5 million sq km South China Sea (SCS) as its own, counters it by asserting that the island was discovered it hundreds of years ago and successive Chinese regimes exercised sovereignty over it, even though it was far from its coast.
Philippine President Benigno Aquino III, who has stepped up Manila's claims over the island said "we don't think that at this point in time that they will engage in any military activities."
"It's clear it is to nobody's benefit, and there are a lot of repercussions, if any military force happens to be employed here. We think that (China's stand) is more a statement that lacks substance. It's not indicative of the real intentions," he was quoted in the Philippine media as saying.
Meanwhile the ships of the two countries had a close shave on Sunday. Manila alleged that a Chinese ship has made two threatening passes near Philippine coast guard vessels neat the island but that there was no collision.
The Chinese ship came close as 200 yards to one of the Philippine vessels and veered away generating huge waves that lashed the two ships, it said.
Reacting to Philippines, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Liu Weimin said the Chinese vessel was on a patrol in accordance with the law.
"The Philippine side's allegation about the Chinese fishery patrol ship 'bullying' Philippine vessels is sheer subjective assumption," Liu said.
Two days ago the Chinese military for the first time said it was ready to go in for assistance to its fishermen and maritime bodies in asserting China's maritime rights hinting that it was gearing up to step in if necessary.
Besides pressing its claims on the island, Manila also called Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Brunei who have similar disputes with China in SCS to speak up.
It is also pressing ASEAN bloc to take a stand.