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Leaning on US, Philippines boldly pushes back on China in sea dispute

The Philippines, a normally quiet claimant in South China Sea disputes, is mounting unusually bold resistance against China as it edges in on Manila’s maritime interests.

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Filipino Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario updates the media on developments in the Scarborough Shoal territorial standoff between the Philippines and China in the South China Sea during a press conference Thursday, April 26, in Pasay City, Philippines.

Pat Roque/AP

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The Philippines accused China today of violating a 2002 nonaggression pact when Chinese government ships prevented Filipino authorities from arresting Chinese fishermen whom the Philippines say were illegally encroaching.

It is the latest in a series of unusually bold moves by the Philippines in its mounting multilayered resistance against China as it edges in on Manila’s maritime interests. Philippine officials have grilled the Chinese ambassador, proposed an elaborate dispute-resolution plan to its Southeast Asian neighbors, and bought two former US coast guard ships to help its navy to hold off China.

“The Philippines has come to the conclusion over the past couple of years that China is growing more determined to assert its claims,” says Scott Harold, associate political scientist with The RAND Corp., a US-based policy research institution. “As China has grown more determined to assert its claims, the Philippines has moved to rebuild its defense cooperative relations with the United States,” a staunch ally.

Manila’s campaign hit high gear this month after Chinese ships blocked Philippine attempts to arrest the crews of eight Chinese fishing boats near Scarborough Shoal, a coral reef 230 kilometers (143 miles) west of the main Philippine island of Luzon. But its vigilance had been rising since 2009 as resource-hungry China crept closer.

'Not just another spat'

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