The territorial row between China and the Philippines is heating up anew over reports that Chinese vessels unloaded building materials, erected an undetermined number of posts, and placed a buoy in the disputed Spratly islands in preparation for the installation of an oil rig there.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Wednesday said it brought to Beijing its formal protest over reports that a China Marine Surveillance vessel and army navy ships were sighted in disputed waters of the South China Sea.
The DFA also said it had on Tuesday requested a high-ranking Chinese official in Manila to clarify reports that Chinese military vessels unloaded building materials in the South China Sea.
Earlier on Friday, the foreign ministry conveyed to Chinese embassy officials its concern over reports by the Chinese state media that Beijing plans to install next month its most advanced oil rig in the disputed territory.
The DFA said it asked the Chinese embassy that exact planned location of the mega oil rig should not be placed in Philippine territory or its waters, adding that the buoy had been set up near the Amy Douglas Bank, which was within the country’s 200 nautical miles Exclusive Economic.
The posts and buoy were about 26 nautical miles from Flat Island, one of the outcrops in the Spratly archipelago occupied by the Philippines, and 125 nautical miles from the island of Palawan in the south.
Meanwhile, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said any construction in the disputed area would violate the 2002 agreement signed by China and the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
The four other claimants to the Spratly islands are Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam. The disputed area is believed rich in oil reserves.
In March, reports said Chinese patrol boats had harassed a Philippine oil exploration vessel in disputed waters near the Spratly islands, which prompted the government to file a formal protest at the United Nations.
The incident occurred just a day before Chinese Defense Minister Liang Guanglie visited Manila to meet his Filipino counterpart. The two officials pledged to avoid unilateral actions that could inflame tensions in the area.