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A Chinese warship has run aground while patrolling contested waters adjacent to the Philippines in the South China Sea.|
The frigate pinned itself to a reef last night at Half Moon Shoal, on the south-eastern edge of the Spratly Islands, and remains "thoroughly stuck", according to Western diplomatic sources shortly after midday local time, or 2pm AEST.
Salvage operations could be diplomatically challenging, given the vessel appears to have run aground within 200 kilometres of the Philippines coast, which is squarely within what Manila claims to be its Exclusive Economic Zone.
The stricken People's Liberation Army Navy vessel, believed to be No. 560, a Jianghu-class frigate, has in the past been involved in aggressively discouraging Filipino fishing boats from the area.
The accident could not have come at a more embarrassing moment for the Chinese leadership, who have been pressing territorial claims and flexing the country's muscle ahead of a leadership transition later this year.
Today's meeting of the Association of South-East Asian Nations in Cambodia ended in disarray, without a code of conduct for resolving conflicts in the South China Sea, following robust intervention from China.
Also this week, China yesterday dispatched one of its largest-ever fishing expeditions from Hainan Island to another disputed archipelago in the South China Sea.
Earlier in the week, PLA generals and top foreign policy advisers urged China to do more to press its claims.
Cui Liru, president of the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, a leading think tank that reports to the main intelligence department, said Beijing had previously focused too much on seeking common ground with its neighbours and putting disputes on the shelf.
"In the foreseeable future, say at least in five years, the Asia-Pacific region will still be showing every feature of a transitional period, which is characterised by a certain level of chaos," he said.
China's ministry of foreign affairs was not immediately available for comment.
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