News / Asia

Philippines Seeks Answers About Latest South China Sea Incident

A Chinese flag and a satellite dish are prominently displayed in a structure built by China in one of the islands in the Spratly Islands.
A Chinese flag and a satellite dish are prominently displayed in a structure built by China in one of the islands in the Spratly Islands.
Simone Orendain

The Philippine government says it has conveyed "serious concerns" to the Chinese embassy about reports that Chinese ships unloaded building materials and put up military posts on reefs claimed by Manila in the South China Sea. Officials say they are still trying to confirm if the ships were from China.

The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs is asking the top ranking official at the Chinese Embassy in Manila whether Chinese boats were in the area around Amy Douglas Bank.

The department says the Philippine defense and military agencies received reports that a surveillance ship and two marine vessels put up steel posts, building materials and buoys on the island that it says is well within the country’s economic zone.

Military spokesman Commodore Mike Rodriguez says Philippine fishermen spotted the buoys last week and turned them over to the Philippine navy.

“We have not confirmed the source of the markers but they have Chinese markings," said Rodriguez. "But considering everything is made in China nowadays, they could belong to anybody now.”

This is the second time the Philippine government has asked China for clarification on an incident in the South China Sea. In March, the country filed a complaint that a survey ship was harassed by Chinese patrol vessels in Reed Bank, which is in Philippine waters.

The South China Sea includes a group of islands called the Spratlys, which are claimed in whole or part by China, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan. These islands are believed to hold oil and natural gas deposits, and they are about 170 kilometers northwest from where the Philippine incidents took place.

Members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations signed a non-binding code in 2002 stating they would settle South China Sea disputes peacefully. But China has yet to agree to its implementation.

Foreign Affairs spokesman Ed Malaya says this latest incident calls for clear guidelines.

“What we would like to see is concrete progress towards a more binding agreement on the conduct of parties in this part of our region,” said Malaya.

The Chinese Embassy spokesman could not be reached for comment.

Last week, China’s defense minister met with the Philippine national defense secretary.  Both agreed that a peaceful approach to the South China Sea would be best.

This is the second diplomatic flare-up within a week concerning overlapping claims to reefs and islands in the South China Sea. Last week, Vietnam complained that Chinese naval vessels had cut a cable trailing from an oil exploration ship and forced the ship out of waters off Vietnam's southeastern coast.

Vietnam says that incident occurred about 600 kilometers south of China's Hainan Island and 120 kilometers off its coast, well within Vietnam's exclusive economic zone.

At a Chinese Foreign Ministry briefing Tuesday, spokeswoman Jiang Yu said the Vietnamese survey ship had been operating illegally in Chinese-administered waters, and that the action against it was "completely justified."

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