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Filipino activists decide not to sail closer to disputed shoal, avoiding clash with Chinese ships

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — About 100 Filipino activists on wooden boats have decided not to sail closer to a fiercely disputed shoal in the South China Sea on Thursday to avoid a confrontation with dozens of Chinese coast guard and suspected militia ships guarding the area.

Accompanied by journalists on four boats, the activists will distribute food packs and fuel to Filipino fishermen about 58 nautical miles (107 kilometers) southeast of Scarborough Shoal and then sail back home, Emman Hizon and other organizers said.

Chinese and Philippine coast guard and accompanying ships have had a series of increasingly hostile territorial faceoffs at Scarborough, which is surrounded by the Chinese coast guard, and at Philippine-occupied Second Thomas Shoal since last year. The Chinese ships have used powerful water cannons and employed blocking and other dangerous maneuvers that led to minor collisions, injured several Filipino navy personnel and strained diplomatic ties.

The United States has repeatedly warned that it’s obligated to defend the Philippines, its longtime treaty ally, if Filipino forces, ships or aircraft come under an armed attack in the region, including in the busy South China Sea. That has sparked fears a conflict could involve Washington if the territorial disputes escalate out of control.

The activists and fishing community leaders, who belong to a nongovernment coalition called Atin Ito, Tagalog for This is Ours, provided aid to Filipino fishermen and floated symbolic territorial buoys on Wednesday on their way to Scarborough’s outlying waters to assert Philippine sovereign rights over the atoll. But two Chinese coast guard ships started shadowing them Wednesday night, according to Hizon and the Philippine