- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 26, 2001

A Philippine government spokesman said yesterday that Chinese warship deployments to disputed Spratlys islands are a "major development" that could prompt diplomatic protests to Beijing.
Rigoberto Tiglao, a spokesman for Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, said the Chinese ship deployments, if confirmed, represent "a major disturbance to the implicit agreement that we maintain, that we don't disturb the status quo of the Spratlys."
The spokesman was commenting on an article in yesterday's editions of The Washington Times that said U.S. intelligence reports showed China was stepping up warship deployments in the Spratlys.
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, California Republican, said the Chinese movement of ships to the Spratlys is "an example of Chinese military adventurism off the Philippine coast."
"This is more than disturbing," he said. "This is alarming."
State Department spokesman Philip Reeker declined to comment, but he reiterated the department's position on the Spratlys that "all claimants to [the islands] should exercise restraint."
A dozen Chinese warships recently transited waters close to the Spratlys, according to intelligence reports. They also disclosed the first major Chinese naval deployments to Scarborough Reef, where two of the Chinese warships were spotted.
U.S. intelligence officials said a Chinese Foreign Ministry official in April promised that China would not seek to establish a military presence near the reef. However, in May the two Chinese warships and a vessel suspected of intelligence gathering were deployed to Scarborough Reef, and Chinese navy helicopters flew over the reef.
Mr. Tiglao would not say if Manila planned to issue a formal protest over the incursion, saying that the reports needed to be verified first.
Meanwhile, Chang Chun-hsiung, prime minister of the Republic of China (Taiwan), said in Taipei that disputes regarding the South China Sea should be settled peacefully. "We have been promoting peace in the South China Sea," Mr. Chang said of a recent trip to Tungsha Island, about 100 miles north of the disputed Spratly islands group.
Mr. Chang said nations in the region should approach their differences according to the principles of "peaceful settlement, joint exploration and sharing of resources."
Taiwan occupies Taiping island, the largest of the Spratlys.
The Spratlys are claimed in whole or part by Taiwan, the Philippines, China, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei.
Mr. Chang noted that lingering tensions in the region could become a flash point.
"We know the South China Sea issues are ever-changing and complicated. Training must be beefed up to safeguard the sovereignty and territory," he said.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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