China policy battles boost South China Sea strains

Mon Apr 23, 2012 7:53am EDT
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By Michael Martina and Manuel Mogato

BEIJING/MANILA (Reuters) - Jockeying by Chinese agencies over policy fiefdoms and budgets threatens to intensify tension in the disputed South China Sea, a respected think tank warned on Monday, with the Philippines seeking more patrols to guard against China's claims.

China has territorial disputes with the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan across the South China Sea. They worry over what some see as growing Chinese assertiveness in staking claims over the sea's islands, reefs and shoals.

On Sunday, the commander of security forces on the western Philippines island of Palawan said he had asked for more ships and aircraft to step up patrols in his area, fearing China may build on uninhabited features there.

"In the age of prefab materials, they can do it in just one day," Lieutenant General Juancho Sabban told reporters after annual U.S.-Philippines war games on the island.

Sabban's area of command includes the Spratly islands, one of the main disputed areas in the South China Sea.

"We have more patrols now than before and we are asking for more air assets so we can patrol the area," he said.

Sabban said there was growing concern over China's increased presence in the South China Sea, including plans to place markers in contested waters that are seen as an attempt to bolster its territorial claims.

In a report released on Monday, the International Crisis Group (ICG) said weak coordination among the various Chinese government bodies responsible for South China Sea policy has complicated China's attempt at a peaceful rise.   Continued...

A handout photo shows two Chinese surveillance ships which sailed between a Philippines warship and eight Chinese fishing boats to prevent the arrest of any fishermen in the Scarborough Shoal, a small group of rocky formations whose sovereignty is contested by the Philippines and China, in the South China Sea, about 124 nautical miles off the main island of Luzon April 10, 2012. REUTERS/Philippine Army Handout