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China, Philippines tension over South China Sea reef escalates

Press Trust of India  |  Beijing 

Tension between China and the Philippines over the ownership of a reef in the disputed South China Sea escalated today as Beijing lodged a protest opposing Manila's plea filed in an international tribunal on the issue.

Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin lodged solemn representation to Philippine Ambassador Erlinda Basilio over his country's formal plea filed in the international tribunal on South China Sea dispute, official media reported.

China expressed strong dissatisfaction and firm opposition to the Philippine side over the international arbitration it pushed forward unilaterally disregarding China's stern stance, Liu said.

Earlier, the Foreign Ministry warned the Philippines about escalating provocation, as Manila stepped up its campaign over Second Thomas Shoal, known in China as the Renai reef, which Beijing claims as part of its waters.

The Philippine side must take consequences of its provocation, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said.

By pushing forward international arbitration, the Philippines are attempting to disguise their illegal occupation of Chinese territory.

"It is political provocation based on abuse of international law," Hong said stating that China will neither accept nor participate in international arbitration.

He said China made a statement in accordance with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in 2006, pointing out that such disputes are not subject to arbitration.

The Philippines sent a ship to the Ren'ai Reef yesterday with journalists on board, and today filed a formal plea with an international tribunal.

Taking journalists to the reef was a "deliberate" action to stir up the South China Sea issue in an international court, and another chapter in the Philippines' illegal attempt to seize the reef, Hong said.

"China will never allow the Philippines to occupy the Ren'ai Reef in any form. China will never allow the Philippines to succeed in its attempt to build facilities there against the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC)," Hong said.

His comments came as US State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf backed the Philippines' action, saying "all countries should respect the right of any states party, including the Philippines, to avail themselves of the dispute resolution mechanisms provided for under the Law of the Sea Convention."

The Philippines warship was grounded near the Ren'ai Reef in the South China Sea in 1999 and it refused to retrieve the ship since. In a recent statement, Manila said the stranded warship has served as a permanent installation since 1999.

First Published: Mon, March 31 2014. 21:36 IST