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Tuesday, May 25, 1999 Published at 09:56 GMT 10:56 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

China condemns sinking of trawler

China on Tuesday condemned the sinking of a Chinese fishing boat in disputed waters, as an attack on its sovereignty, and demanded an investigation and compensation.

The authorities in Beijing expressed "strong displeasure" over the sinking, which took place on Sunday near Scarborough Shoal - a part of the South China Sea claimed by both China and the Philippines.

[ image: The reef where the sinking occured is disputed territory]
The reef where the sinking occured is disputed territory
"The collision of the Philippine navy ship with our country's fishing boat seriously endangered the personal safety of our Chinese fishermen."

A foreign ministry spokesman reiterated China's claim that the reef has been China's since ancient times.

The Philippines must find and punish those responsible, compensate the Chinese fishermen for their losses, and take "necessary measures" to prevent a similar incident occurring again, he said.

The Philippine Defence Secretary, Orlando Mercado, said on Tuesday that three Chinese fishermen detained after their boat sank were handed over to Beijing's ambassador, Fu Ying, late on Monday.

Estrada's 'regrets'

[ image: The Philippine navy has been patrolling the area to assert its claim]
The Philippine navy has been patrolling the area to assert its claim
"We extend to the Chinese ambassador our regrets for that incident," President Joseph Estrada told reporters, insisting that it was the fishing vessel which "crashed on our Philippine navy" vessel.

"They were fishing inside the Philippine territory so we have to study whether to apologize or not for that unfortunate incident," he said.

Nine other crewmen of the fishing boat were picked up by colleagues in the other boats, and no one was hurt.

Mr Mercado said he and the Chinese ambassador agreed that an investigation was necessary.

Tensions between Beijing and Manila have flared repeatedly since the mid-1990s, when China began building permanent structures on part of the Spratly Islands known as Mischief Reef which is also claimed by the Philippines.

Last year, after China enlarged some structures, Mr Mercado accused China of mounting a "creeping invasion" of the disputed South China Sea chain.

China, Taiwan and Vietnam claim the entire area, while the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei claim some islands.

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