China is pushing back against Philippine charges that Beijing is increasing its military activity in the South China Sea area and threatening peace and stability in the region.
During the foreign minister’s meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Brunei, Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert Del Rosario released a statement Sunday saying there is a "massive presence of Chinese military and paramilitary ships" at the Huangyan Islands and the Ren'ai Reef, also known as the Second Thomas Shoal.
Del Rosario said this poses "threats to efforts to maintain maritime peace and stability in the region."
China’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, responded on Monday that China has indisputable rights over, and interests in the area and surrounding waters, according to Xinhua, China’s official news agency.
Hua went on to say that tensions in the South China Sea were not caused by China, and cited what she said were incidents when Philippine military vessels harassed Chinese fishermen last year. She said another cause of tensions was the the Philippines’ claim of sovereignty over the Second Thomas Shoal.
In June, the Philippines accused China of violating its territorial waters after three Chinese ships sailed near the shoal where the Philippines had stranded an old transport ship in 1999 to mark its claim to the territory. China has repeatedly demanded that the Philippines remove the ship.
Earlier this year, Philippine armed forces chief General Emmanuel Bautista said the military was replacing troops stationed on the wrecked ship and replenishing their supplies.
In her statement Monday, Hua referred to the ongoing dispute, saying, "If any country can use faulty vessels to make illegal occupation an accomplished fact, then where are the rules and credibility in the South China Sea? Where is the foundation for maintaining peace and stability in the region?"
The Second Thomas Shoal is believed to be rich in oil and natural gas deposits and is one of several possible flashpoints in the South China Sea.
In 2010, Manila awarded an Anglo-Filipino consortium a license to explore for gas on in the area, but drilling stalled last year, because of the presence of Chinese ships.
Some information for this report was provided by Reuters