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Diplomacy vow in China stand-off

The Philippines foreign secretary has said he and the Chinese ambassador have agreed to resolve diplomatically a stand-off involving a Philippine warship and two Chinese surveillance vessels in a disputed area of the South China Sea.

Albert Del Rosario said he met ambassador Ma Keqing and both reaffirmed their governments' positions that the Scarborough Shoal where the ships are facing off was part of their own country's territory.

Mr Del Rosario said that despite the impasse, "we resolved to seek a diplomatic solution to the issue".

The Philippine government says its navy tried to detain Chinese fishermen but was prevented by the Chinese surveillance craft. Beijing called on the Philippine ship to leave the waters.

The shoal lies off the north-western province of Zambales. China and the Philippines have been disputing ownership of the shoal, in addition to the Spratly Islands and other areas in the South China Sea.

The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs said that on Sunday, a Philippine navy surveillance plane sighted eight Chinese fishing vessels anchored in a lagoon at Scarborough, prompting the military to deploy its largest warship, the BRP Gregorio del Pilar, which was recently acquired from the United States.

On Tuesday, Filipino sailors from the warship boarded the Chinese vessels for an inspection, discovering large amounts of illegally collected coral, giant clams and live sharks inside the first boat, the department said.

Two Chinese maritime surveillance ships, identified as Zhonggou Haijian 75 and Zhonggou Haijian 84, later approached and positioned themselves between the Philippine warship and the Chinese fishing vessels "thus preventing the arrests of the erring Chinese fishermen", the statement said.

Chinese officials, who refer to Scarborough Shoal as Huangyan Island, have in the past asserted Chinese sovereignty over the area. The Philippines refers to the shoal, a rich fishing ground, as Panatag.

Last year the Philippines accused Chinese vessels of intruding into other parts of what it considers Philippine territory near the South China Sea, including the Spratlys. China has regularly dismissed the protests, saying Beijing has indisputable sovereignty over those areas on historical grounds.

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