Friday, September 06, 2013

Philippines recalls envoy to China amid new sea spat

The Philippines has recalled its ambassador to China for consultations, the foreign department said on Thursday amid fresh tensions in a seething maritime territorial row.

Ambassador Erlinda Basilio flew back to Manila as the defence department this week accused China of laying 75 concrete blocks on disputed territory in the South China Sea, foreign department spokesman Raul Hernandez said.

"She was asked to come home for consultations, and she will (be in Manila) for the next few days," Hernandez told reporters.

He said Basilio was advising Filipino officials on how to handle the alleged Chinese actions at Scarborough Shoal, a rocky outcrop about 220 kilometres off the main Philippine island of Luzon, within the country's internationally recognised exclusive economic zone.

Philippine defence officials have expressed concern the Chinese block-laying could be a prelude to building structures at the shoal.

The outcrop is about 650 kilometres from Hainan island, the nearest major Chinese land mass.

Asked if Manila would lodge a diplomatic protest or undertake other options, Hernandez said: "We are still studying the matter." 

The Philippine foreign ministry earlier said President Benigno Aquino had also called off a planned trip to China on Tuesday for a trade fair after Chinese authorities imposed conditions on the trip.

The concrete blocks have raised concerns in Manila that China could be planning construction in the waters, as it did in Philippine-claimed Mischief Reef in another area of the sea, in 1995.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei rejected the Philippine allegations of block-laying on Wednesday, while asserting China's sovereignty over the shoal.

China claims most of the South China Sea, including waters close to the coasts of its neighbours. - Channel News Asia

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