China summons Manila envoy over South China Sea legal case

BEIJING Mon Mar 31, 2014 10:37am EDT

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BEIJING (Reuters) - China summoned the Philippines ambassador on Monday to lodge a strong complaint over Manila's seeking of international arbitration in a festering territorial dispute over the South China Sea.

The Philippines filed the case against China on Sunday at an arbitration tribunal in The Hague, subjecting Beijing to international legal scrutiny over the waters for the first time.

Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin told the Philippines' ambassador that China was "extremely dissatisfied and resolutely opposed" to the case, repeating that China did not accept it and would not participate.

"The Philippines forcing of international arbitration is not conducive towards resolving the Sino-Philippine dispute over the South China Sea," the Foreign Ministry cited Liu as saying.

The case would not shake China's resolve to protect its sovereignty and territorial integrity, Liu added.

The only way to address the issue was through bilateral talks, he said, repeating another of China's standard lines.

Over the weekend, a Philippine vessel delivered food, water and troops to one of the disputed atolls in the South China Sea, called Second Thomas Shoal, evading two Chinese coastguard ships trying to block its path.

Liu expressed anger at that too, especially as the Philippines took reporters along to what China calls Ren'ai Reef. "China will not tolerate the Philippines' occupation of Ren'ai Reef in any form," he said, calling on the Philippines to stop its "provocative behavior".

Philippine President Benigno Aquino, speaking to reporters earlier on Monday, said he was not seeking confrontation.

"We are not here to challenge China, to provoke them into any action, but I do believe that they should recognize we have the right to defend our own interests," he said.

The U.S. State Department said all countries should respect the right of any state to use dispute resolution mechanisms under the Convention on the Law of the Sea, and called on all parties to exercise restraint.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said the United States was not a party to the dispute and had said many times it would not take a position.

"We demand that the United States be as good as their word, and do more to benefit peace and stability in the South China Sea, not the opposite," Hong said

"The Philippine side will certainly face consequences for its provocative actions," he added, without elaborating.

China displays its claims to the South China Sea on official maps with a so-called nine-dash line that stretches deep into the maritime heart of Southeast Asia.

Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have claims to parts of the potentially energy-rich waters.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Additional reporting by Manny Mogato in MANILA; Editing by Nick Macfie and Alison Willimas)

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