(Update) The Department of National Defense on Friday said China’s deployment of a patrol gunboat to the West Philippine Sea was okay, if the vessel does not stray into Philippine waters.

“It’s okay if it (gunboat) goes around in international waters. When it goes within the EEZ (exclusive economic zone), that’s a different story,” DND spokesman Peter Paul Galvez said.

Galvez made the remark when sought for comment on China’s reported deployment of the Yuzheng 310.

Chinese state media reported on Thursday that the Yuzheng 310, China’s most advanced fishery administration vessel, was deployed from Guangzhou to protect Chinese fishermen in the South China Sea, which Manila calls West Philippine Sea.

“Ang claim nila (China), that ship is a fisheries ship, so civilian ‘yan in nature, wala rin tayong problema dun,” Galvez said.

The deployment came amid a “standoff” between two China Marine Surveillance vessels and a Philippine Coast Guard ship at the Panatag Shoal (international name: Scarborough Shoal).

Panatag Shoal is located some 120 nautical miles from the shore of Masinloc town in Zambales province, well within the 200-nautical mile EEZ provided for coastal states under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

It was not immediately known where the Yuzheng 310 already was on Friday.

The standoff started last April 10, when the Philippine Navy warship BRP Gregorio del Pilar tried to arrest Chinese fishermen on 12 boats that were found carrying corals, giant clams, and live sharks poached in Philippine waters.

The warship withdrew from the shoal the next day and was replaced by a Coast Guard ship, in what Philippine officials said was a move to let a civilian agency deal with another civilian agency.

The Coast Guard, despite being armed, is considered a civilian agency since it is supervised by the Department of Transporation and Communications. The China Marine Surveillance falls under the State Oceanic Administration. (John Roson)

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