On Sunday, the Philippines’ charged Beijing of plotting to hold more “features” in the debated South China Sea.
China claims almost the whole of the resource-rich sea and has stated its position by building up small shores and ridges into military bases with airstrips and port facilities.
Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei all have competing interests to the waters, which include strategically important shipping ways and could harbour oil and gas deposits. A line of more than 200 Chinese ships that sparked a diplomatic row last month after parking at Whitsun Reef off the Philippines is now spread across the contested Spratly Islands.
Manila, to this point, called on Beijing to withdraw the “maritime militia” ships from the area, saying their port is illegal. China protested, asserting they are fishing boats and are permitted to operate there. But Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the ships were there for other reasons.
“The continued presence of Chinese maritime militias in the area reveals their intent to further occupy features in the West Philippine Sea,” he said.
Lorenzana pointed to China’s capture of the Philippine-claimed Scarborough Shoal and Mischief Reef as early examples of them “brazenly violating” his country’s supremacy.
On Saturday, Lorenzana denied China’s demands that the boats parked at Whitsun Reef, and where dozens prevailed last week, had been asking shelter from bad climate.
The Chinese embassy in Manila called Lorenzana’s statement “perplexing” and prompted authorities to withdraw “unprofessional remarks which may further fan irrational emotions”.
Beijing often requests the so-called nine-dash line to support its possible historic rights over most of the South China Sea, and it has ignored a 2016 international tribunal decision that declared this statement as without basis.
The Philippines military lately spotted illegal man-made structures in the South China Sea near the area where hundreds of Chinese ships had gathered last month. Authorities documented these structures as illegal and man-made, which are evident on Union Banks in the South China Sea’s Spratly Islands.