China has denied it is increasing combat readiness and tit-for-tat behavior in response to a territorial row with the Philippines over a disputed shoal in the South China Sea.
CNN pointed to a string of signals from China this week suggesting that the Asian economic and military giant is losing patience with its smaller neighbor's insistence that it has sovereignty over the Scarborough Shoal.
The dispute over the shoal, a tiny rocky outcrop about 180 miles from the Philippines’ main island of Luzon, began when Philippine authorities tried to arrest the crew of Chinese ships fishing but were blocked by Chinese surveillance vessels.
China claims virtually all of the West Philippine Sea, which according to Agence France-Presse is believed to sit atop huge oil and gas reserves.
The Philippines, however, says the shoal falls within its exclusive economic zone. Taiwan, Brunei, Vietnam and Malaysia also claim parts of the sea.
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On Saturday, China impounded Philippine fruit exports — a key industry of the Philippines — alleging they carried pests, AFP reported.
AFP cited reports in Manila newspapers as saying tones of Philippine bananas were rotting at Chinese ports. And the Philippines' Bureau of Plant Industry director Clarito Barron confirmed to the news service that fruit shipments faced stricter inspection in the country.
"This has a huge effect on the industry," Barron said, adding that China had imported 300,000 tones of Philippine bananas worth $60 million last year.
Meanwhile, in a separate report, AFP pointed to warnings in Chinese state media that Beijing was prepared to fight to end the stand-off.
The news service also cited Internet "rumors" that China had ordered some military units up to level two of its four-level scale of war preparedness, one notch from the top which indicates full readiness.
However, it added, China’s defense ministry had denied military units were getting ready for war.
“Reports that the Guangzhou military region, the South China Sea fleet and other units have entered a state of war preparedness are untrue,” the ministry said in a statement on its website.
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