China on Thursday said that it had sent a maritime patrol vessel to disputed islands and surrounding waters of the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) but insisted that it remains committed to peace in the region despite tensions with its neighbors.
Beijing had pledged that it would not resort to force to resolve lingering maritime territorial rows over the contested islands and waters, after the Philippines this week sought help from the United States and Vietnam staged live-fire military exercises in contrasting moves to assert their claims to the territories.
China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Brunei Darussalam and Malaysia have competing claims to the Spratlys.
Beijing and Hanoi are at odds over the Paracels.
The area has commercial shipping lanes that are vital for global trade.
Tensions between China and other rival claimants escalated in recent weeks, with the Philippines and Vietnam in particular expressing alarm at what they say are increasingly aggressive actions by China in the disputed islands and waters.
A day before Beijing deployed the Haixun 31 to the West Philippine Sea, Manila announced that it had removed foreign markers in the Spratlys in an apparent muscle-flexing of its own.
The Philippine Navy on Wednesday said that it took out the markers, whose ownerships it did not establish, in May this year.
On Thursday, it called the removal of the markers a form of active defense on the part of the Philippines.
Rear Admiral Alexander Pama, Navy flag officer-in-command, said that they have responsibilities to protect the country’s 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone.
The Philippine Navy, together with the Philippine Coast Guard, according to Pama, would continue patrolling the contested islands round the clock.
A good deal of background at China: "The Cow's Tongue" and the links therein.