China denied a Philippine claim that it’s preparing to build a structure on an uninhabited shoal in the South China Sea claimed by both countries.
“The situation claimed by the Philippines is not true,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said at a briefing in Beijing today. He spoke a day after Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said Philippine forces saw three Chinese coast guard ships and concrete blocks in the Scarborough Shoal as of Aug. 31. China calls the shoal Huangyan Island.
“The Chinese government’s sending ships to maintain regular patrols in Huangyan waters to protect its sovereignty and keep order is China’s legitimate right,” Hong said.
Building a structure on the shoal would contravene a 2002 declaration between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to refrain from occupying uninhabited land in the South China Sea, according to Gazmin. The accusation added to tensions over the disputed area, which may contain oil and gas reserves.
China has accused the Philippines of illegally occupying Ayungin Shoal, where Filipino troops have been stationed after a naval ship ran aground in 1999. The Philippines and Vietnam reject China’s map of the sea, first published in the 1940s, as a basis for joint exploration of oil and gas.
The non-binding 2002 Asean-China agreement calls on parties to peacefully solve disputes and refrain from “inhabiting on the presently uninhabited islands, reefs, shoals, cays and other features” in the South China Sea. China and Asean agreed to start talks this month on a legally binding code of conduct for the waters.
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