June 18, 2012 / 8:16 AM / 8 years ago

China urges restraint as sea row with Philippines eases

BEIJING (Reuters) - China said on Monday it hoped for a further easing of tensions after the Philippines pulled back two vessels from a group of disputed rocks, ending a two-month standoff between the two sides.

China has territorial disputes with the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan across the South China Sea, each searching for gas and oil while building up their navies and military alliances.

“We hope there will continue to be an easing in the situation and hope bilateral cooperation will recover and be safeguarded,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a daily news briefing. “We hope the Philippines can exercise restraint.”

He added that Chinese fishing boats in the area were heading back to port because of bad weather, the same reason given by Manila for the pull-back.

Lightly armed Philippine coast guard ships had since April taken turns to escort a fishing boat guarding the mouth of Scarborough Shoal, a group of rock formations about 124 nautical miles west of the Philippines’ main island of Luzon.

At one time, China had nearly 100 civilian surveillance ships, fishing vessels and smaller utility boats in the area, raising tension in the South China Sea, threatening trade, tourism and political relations between the two sides.

Reporting by Michael Martina; Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Nick Macfie

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