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September 24, 2017

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Chinese continue to operate in disputed waters: gov't official

MANILA -- Chinese fishing boats continue to operate "normally and free of disturbance" at the disputed Scarborough (Panatag) Shoal, according to a Chinese government statement posted on the website of the Chinese embassy in Manila.

"Chinese government vessels are continuing their management and service for the Chinese fishing boats and fishermen in waters off the Huangyan Island," Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Liu Weimin said in a press conference in Beijing on Wednesday, according to the posting.

Huangyan Island is China's name for the shoal, which the Philippines also calls Bajo de Masinloc and Panatag.

Liu made the statement, which was posted on the Chinese embassy Website on Saturday, following the "repositioning" of government vessels from the Philippines and China.

On Tuesday, the Department of Foreign Affairs announced that the government vessels of both nations had moved out from an area inside the disputed shoal.

"China moved out two government ships from a lagoon at the center of the rock formation of the shoal and a research ship from the Philippines' Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources did the same," DFA spokesman Raul Hernandez said.

Hernandez added, however, that there were still 30 Chinese fishing vessels inside the lagoon.

Liu said China was continuing its communication with the Philippine side on how to properly handle the Huangyan island incident and improve bilateral relations.

Liu maintained that the shoal was "indisputably China's territory."

"China has been committed to solving the situation through diplomatic consultations and has worked a great deal on the Philippine side, and the remaining vessel finally left the lagoon on June 3," he added, stressing that "China does not hope to see any more provocative behavior that hurts China's rights and interests."

Liu said China seldom allows large ships to carry out activities inside the lagoon because it "has a fragile ecology."

According to Liu, China sent two government vessels to the lagoon as necessary on May 30 and cleared the area after the withdrawal of Philippine government vessels.

"The two Chinese ships left the lagoon after completion of the mission on June 5," Liu said, adding: "At present, Chinese fishing boats are operating normally in the lagoon free of disturbance and Chinese government vessels are continuing their management and service for the Chinese fishing boats and fishermen in waters off the Huangyan island."

As of Tuesday, the DFA said, the two Chinese vessels joined six other Chinese ships just outside the lagoon, while the Philippine vessel was now with a second Philippine ship stationed outside.

President Benigno Aquino III's spokesman Edwin Lacierda said the repositioning of the Chinese and Philippine vessels would eventually ease the standoff in the disputed waters.

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