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Both countries claim the Scarborough Shoal, which is known as Panatag Shoal to Filipinos or Huangyan island to the Chinese. Territorial rivalry has escalated over the small rocky outpost during the last month as the Philippines have attempted to scale back an expanding Chinese presence in the potentially oil-rich South China Sea. Beijing and Manila have been locked in a high seas stand-off since the PLA Navy prevented a Philippine warship from arresting crews of Chinese fishing boats near the Scarborough Shoal on April 8. Both countries claim the fish rich shoal as their own and protests by Philippine fishermen over their loss of livelihood have drawn mass support in the south-east Asian country.
BEIJING, May 9 (Xinhua) -- The controversy over a tiny island in the South China Sea has intensified, making it the most serious standoff between China and the Philippines in the sea in recent years. In early April, the Philippines sent a warship to harass 12 Chinese fishing vessels which sailed into the waters of Huangyan Island to shelter from bad weather. According to media reports, the Philippines has also notified China on its readiness to raise the issue of the sovereignty of Huangyan Island to international arbitration. In addition, it tried to rename the island and remove the signs and monuments related to China. WHO IS THE TROUBLEMAKER Huangyan Island, a group of reefs and islets about 550 sea miles away from the Hainan Island in south China, has long provided a perfect shelter for fishing ships from nearby islands and the mainland of China. "For many generations we have fished in this water," said Ke Weixiu, a fisherman and native from the port of Tanmen in Hainan. However, since the 1990s, Chinese fishermen have repeatedly been harassed by Philippine warships. According to the fishery department under the Ministry of Agriculture, four Chinese fishing boats were intercepted by the Philippine navy in the waters around the island from January to March in 1998 and 51 fishermen on board were detained for about six months. In May 1999, a Chinese fishing boat was rammed by a Philippine warship and sunk, according to the ministry.
As a dispute over South China Sea territory threatens to boil over, a reporter plants the Chinese flag on the "island" at the centre of the row as Filipinos protest in Manila.
China has capability to 'strike back when interests are under threat' Despite the United States claiming that its naval shift to the Asia-Pacific is not designed at containing China, Washington's strategy needs closer attention amid a tense maritime situation, analysts said. The US will reposition its naval forces so that 60 percent of them will be in the Pacific by 2020, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told the 11th Asia Security Summit in Singapore on Saturday, giving the first details of a new US military strategy announced in January. Currently, the US fleet of 285 ships is almost evenly split between the Atlantic and the Pacific. When asked if the shift in strategy is a challenge to China, Panetta was adamant. "I reject that view entirely," he said. China said it would improve the capability of its forces and has the capacity to "strike back" when "fundamental interests" are under threat. Ren Haiquan, a People's Liberation Army Lieutenant-General, who led the Chinese delegation to the Singapore forum, said on Saturday that Washington's planned naval redeployment is neither something "desperately serious" nor something that "doesn't matter". "We still face a very complex, sometimes severe, situation. We will be prepared for all complexities. There's a saying: work for the best and prepare for the worst," said Ren, who is also vice-president of the PLA's Academy of Military Sciences in Beijing. "We will also improve our military strategy, our national defense and the PLA's fighting ability. We will not attack unless we are attacked," he told reporters at the forum. "We have the measures to strike back when fundamental national interests are under threat," he said. Panetta's announcement came at a time when Asia-Pacific powers are involved in occasional territorial disputes. Chinese fishermen were harassed by Philippine warships in territorial waters off China's Huangyan Island, in the South China Sea.