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Beijing on 'high alert' over Huangyan Island

By Zhang Yunbi (China Daily)

09:14, May 19, 2012

Beijing has vowed to remain on "high alert" over Huangyan Island in case of any provocations, after Manila on Friday postponed a protest trip to the island.

Analysts said Manila's last-minute cancellation shows it has realized the mounting pressures caused by its previous provocations, and it remains to be seen if the protest trip will resume.

A group of about 20 people, led by outspoken former Philippine Marine officer Nicanor Faeldon, and television crews was set to depart from the northern coastal town of Masinloc.

Faeldon served time in prison and was discharged from the Philippine Marines for a 2003 coup attempt. He was granted amnesty last year.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino's last-minute telephone call led to the protesters calling off their trip, Faeldon told reporters.

"I received a call from the president requesting the postponement of this voyage ... I consulted the group and we agreed to concur with the wisdom of the government to postpone it," he added.

In response to the attempted trip, China's Foreign Ministry said on Friday that China will remain on high alert on Huangyan Island to stop any further provocative moves.

"We also call on the related authorities of the Philippines not to make any irresponsible remarks or give rise to any extreme actions," ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a daily news conference.

Yang Baoyun, a professor of Southeast Asia studies at Peking University, told China Daily that the protest trip, although called off, is still viewed as a provocative behavior against China.

"Manila has felt the influence of Beijing's recent moves and started to restrain its moves to avoid prompting an escalation. Yet Beijing should be cautious about Manila's plans to make the dispute a constant issue," Yang warned.

Hong also called on the Philippines to get back on the right track for a diplomatic resolution and send "clear and consistent messages" for it.

Huangyan Island has been China's undisputable territory for centuries, and the Philippines did not officially lay rival claim over it until 1997.

The Philippines bases its territorial claim on its argument that the island is within its so-called 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone, and it has vowed to raise the issue of the island before international tribunals.

On April 10, a Philippine warship harassed 12 Chinese fishing vessels that had sailed near Huangyan Island in Chinese territorial waters in the South China Sea to seek shelter from a storm.

The warship left, but the impasse around the island continued.

Although Philippine Economic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan said on Thursday that he expected "modest" economic fallout from the territorial dispute, Philippine fruit exporters have incurred losses of around $33.6 million since the standoff, local reports said.

In the wake of the April incident, China tightened quality controls on fruit imported from the Philippines, including bananas, and cut the number of tourist visits and flights to Manila.

Several Philippine cargo ships with mangoes destined for sale in China dumped their loads into the South China Sea after being denied break-bulk in China, the Manila Standard Today reported.

Manila is sending officials and experts from the Bureau of Plant Industry to Beijing next week to check on exported bananas deemed unfit for sale due to infestation.

Aquino signed appointment papers on May 10 for two envoys to China, including former Philippine ambassador-designate to China, Domingo Lee, and Cesar Zalamea, chairman and chief executive officer of Focus Range International.

AFP contributed to this story.

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