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Philippines hopes sea dispute with China should ease
by Staff Writers
Manila (AFP) Sept 3, 2011

The Philippines hopes a territorial dispute over the South China Sea will ease after President Benigno Aquino's trip to China, the nation's military chief said Saturday.

But Manila will continue to build its naval patrol capability, General Eduardo Oban said, adding that he expects the Philippine navy to acquire a second Hamilton-class cutter from the United States next year.

The broad hope is that the dispute with China and other claimants over supposedly oil and gas-rich areas of the sea will simmer down following Aquino's August 30 to September 3 state visit, he told reporters.

"That would probably be translated into such an eventuality," Oban said.

Aquino and his host President Hu Jintao issued a joint statement Thursday stressing their commitment to a peaceful dialogue to address the sea dispute.

Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam also claim parts of the South China Sea, which straddles vital sea lanes.

Ahead of the trip the Philippine government had accused China of committing aggressive and unlawful acts in the area claimed by the Philippines, including firing on Filipino fishermen, laying buoys and markers, and hounding an oil vessel.

Oban said Filipino navy patrols over the Philippine-claimed areas of the sea would continue.

"It is our mandate to protect the resources of our islands, so we will have to perform that mandate anywhere in the archipelago," he said.

The navy is to get two more Hamilton-class cutters, with the first of the two to arrive early next year, he said.

The first cutter, renamed the Gregorio del Pilar, sailed into Manila Bay last month after a three-week voyage from the United States.

The navy said the ship would be deployed to protect the country's exclusive economic zone and its oil and gas exploration activities in the South China Sea.

The Philippine Air Force also expects to purchase six jets to train personnel to eventually fly fighter jets, he said, but gave no timetable.

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