MANILA: The Philippines said yesterday it had spotted more concrete blocks allegedly installed by China within Filipino territory in the South China Sea, raising concerns Beijing is planning to build in the disputed waters.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said the Philippines will be filing a diplomatic protest against China over the issue.
China’s planned occupation of the disputed shoal was aimed at expanding its territory ahead of a regional agreement governing maritime rules, del Rosario said.
He urged Southeast Asian neighbours to speed up talks on a binding code of conduct (CoC) that will govern behaviour in the sea.
“We think that China is trying to stay ahead of the CoC, “ del Rosario said in an interview. “We think that they have an assertion agenda that they are trying to complete before they are able to sit down and negotiate a CoC.”
“There are some sectors that believe China’s delaying action on the CoC is a strategic procrastination on their part ... because the CoC looks forward, not back.”
Aerial surveillance has discovered about 75 blocks scattered on a section of the Scarborough Shoal, said defence department spokesman Peter Galvez.
“These can be used for platforms (or) foundations, that is why we said earlier this could be a prelude to any other form of construction,” he told reporters.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei rejected the Philippine allegations.
“What has been said by the Philippines isn’t true. Huangyan Island is China’s inherent territory,” Hong said in an answer to a question posed by state television CCTV at a press briefing, using the Chinese name for the shoal.
“In accordance with the constitution, Chinese government ships maintain routine patrols in waters of Huangyan Island to safeguard our sovereignty over Huangyan Island and to maintain order of relevant waters. That is China’s legitimate right and interest and it is beyond dispute.”
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang has downplayed simmering territorial disputes.
Addressing the 10th China-Asean Expo and business and investment summit in the southern Chinese city of Nanning, Li said China’s trade with Southeast Asia could more than double to $1tn by 2020.
Li reiterated Chinese calls for dialogue over territorial rows.
“We have also noticed that there exist some disruptive factors in the region that are against stability and development, but they are not mainstream,” he said according to a transcript of his speech carried by Xinhua.
“The Chinese side maintains that the South China Sea disputes are not an issue between China and the Asean, and they should not and will not affect the overall China-Asean cooperation.”
China claims most of the South China Sea, including waters close to the coasts of its neighbours.
Scarborough Shoal is a small group of reefs and outcrops about 220 kilometres off the main Philippine island of Luzon, within the country’s internationally recognised exclusive economic zone. The outcrop is about 650 kilometres from Hainan Island, the nearest major Chinese landmass.
The Philippines had earlier released an aerial photograph taken on Saturday of what it said were about 30 concrete blocks at Scarborough.
A second surveillance flight on Monday photographed more blocks scattered over a two-hectare section of the shoal, said Galvez.