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Pitched battle

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The first-ever football and volleyball matches between the Philippine and Vietnamese navies went ahead last weekend. But what was more unorthodox was that they were played on a tiny island in the South China Sea.

Designed to “foster camaraderie”, according to a Philippine Navy spokesman, the sports day served as “a model of cooperation for the other navies to emulate”.

Was he suggesting that China might send its own team for some fun in the sun? If so, don’t bother inviting the spokeswoman at the Chinese foreign ministry, who could barely disguise her disgust at the news. “Don’t you think that these small tricks conducted by the Philippines and Vietnam are nothing but a farce?” she asked reporters.

The games were part of an effort by Manila and Hanoi to present a united front in their ongoing dispute with Beijing over territories in the South China Sea.

And it seems the row might get worse, as China appears to be creating new islands in the contested waters. According to reports from Filipinos fishing in the area, the Chinese navy has been reclaiming islands from the sea in an activity reminiscent of the creation of Dubai’s Palm resort.

“There was this huge Chinese ship sucking sand and rocks from one end of the ocean and blasting it to the other side using a tube,” a fisherman told Bloomberg at the time.

This week China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman refused to comment on the reclamation reports, beyond insisting that whatever goes on is “within China’s jurisdiction”.


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