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Philippines names ambassador to China amid sovereignty row

MANILA -- Philippine President Benigno Aquino named a veteran diplomat as ambassador to China amid a tense standoff over disputed territory in the South China Sea, a presidential spokeswoman said Saturday.

Sonia Brady, 70, who served as ambassador in Beijing from 2006 to 2010, was named to her old post amid a growing clamor for a skilled diplomat to handle the frayed ties caused by the territorial dispute.

Aquino wanted “someone who is already familiar with the politics and the culture of that country. That person can hit the ground running,” said spokeswoman Abigail Valte.

However Brady cannot assume her post until Congress approves her appointment, Valte told AFP.

The Chinese embassy could not be contacted for comment.

Aquino had originally named a family friend, businessman Domingo Lee, as ambassador last year but Congress refused to approve the posting, saying Lee was inexperienced.

Relations between the two countries worsened after Chinese ships blocked Philippine vessels from arresting Chinese fishermen in the South China Sea in April.

Both countries have deployed vessels near the disputed Scarborough Shoal for more than a month to press their conflicting claims to the area.

China claims the shoal along with most of the South China Sea, even up to the coasts of its Asian neighbors, while the Philippines claims the shoal as being well within its 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone.

Since then, China has impounded Philippine fruit shipments and warned tourists against visiting the Philippines while Manila has charged that Beijing is sending even more ships to the shoal

The Philippines, which has one of the weakest militaries in the region, has turned to its main defense ally, the United States, for support.

Aquino is due to meet with President Barack Obama in the White House in June.

“This is no way in connection with the standoff (with China),” Valte said.

It had been planned since Secretary of State Hillary Clinton extended the invitation during a visit to the Philippines in November, she added.

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