UPDATE 1-Philippines calls for construction freeze in South China Sea

Mon Jun 16, 2014 4:46am EDT

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(Adds Chinese foreign ministry comment, details)

MANILA, June 16 (Reuters) - The Philippines said on Monday that China's "expansion agenda" in the disputed South China Sea threatened security and stability in the region, calling on all claimant states to halt construction activities that may raise tensions.

Albert del Rosario, foreign affairs secretary, said he supported U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia Daniel Russel's proposal for China and Southeast Asian states to get together for dialogue.

"Let's call for a moratorium in terms of activities that escalate tension," del Rosario told ANC Television on Monday. "Now, let's do that while we work on an expeditious conclusion of the code of conduct and effective implementation."

Del Rosario said China and other claimant states have been rushing construction activities in their respective claimed territories to expand, citing works in Fiery Cross Reef, Johnson South Reef, Gaven Reef, and Cuarteron Reef.

"They're accelerating their expansion agenda for the following reasons ... one is they want to do this before the conclusion of the code of conduct. They're also trying to do this very quickly in anticipation of the handing down of the tribunal award."

Southeast Asian states have been pressing China to conclude a Code of Conduct - a set of rules governing naval actions - for the South China Sea.

Last year, the Philippines filed a case at the U.N. Arbitral Court in The Hague to clarify its rights to explore and exploit resources under the U.N. Convention of the Law of the Sea. China has refused to participate in the case.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said China had a right to do what it wanted on its islands in the South China Sea as they were Chinese territory, and criticised the Philippines for what it called Manila's illegal occupation of some of the islands and construction work there.

"On the one hand, the Philippines keep making further provocative moves, and one the other hand make thoughtless remarks about China's appropriate moves within the scope of our sovereignty," she told a daily news briefing. "This is totally unreasonable."

China claims 90 percent of the South China Sea, believed to have huge oil-and-gas deposits and rich in fishery resources. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan also have claims over the sea where about $5 trillion of ship-borne trade passes every year.

Del Rosario said Chinese construction in the Spratlys was an attempt to alter the character of the features, converting reefs into islands to be able to increase maritime entitlements.

China and Vietnam are also involved in an increasingly bitter spat over the operations of a Chinese oil rig in another part of the South China Sea, around the Paracel Islands.

China has made Woody Island, which Beijing calls Sansha city, the hub of its operations on the Paracels, including building a port and airport facilities there. (Reporting by Manuel Mogato; and Lara Murallos; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in BEIJING; Editing by Jeremy Laurence)

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