BEIJING (Reuters) - China warned the Philippines on Monday to abandon a disputed shoal in the South China Sea after Manila said it planned to challenge a Chinese naval blockade of the area by sending supplies to its troops stationed there.
Last week, a senior Philippines military official said his country would send civilian supply ships to its soldiers deployed on a vessel that ran aground on the disputed Second Thomas Shoal in 1999. The shoal is known in China as the Ren‘ai reef and in the Philippines as Ayungin.
“The Chinese government’s attitude on maintaining the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity is unwavering. We will never tolerate the Philippines illegal occupation of Ren‘ai reef,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a daily news briefing.
“China is on high alert for the Philippines possibly taking more provocative acts in the South China Sea. The Philippines must accept responsibility for the consequences of what will happen,” he added.
Second Thomas Shoal, a strategic gateway to an area believed to be rich in oil and natural gas, is one of several possible maritime flashpoints that could prompt the United States to intervene in defense of Asian allies troubled by increasingly assertive Chinese maritime claims.
China claims the Philippines is trying to start construction on the reef, which it claims as part of its own territory. The Philippines claims the shoal is part of its continental shelf.
Beijing’s claim over islands, reefs and atolls that form the Spratlys, a group of 250 uninhabitable islets spread over 165,000 square miles (427,000 square km), has set it directly against U.S. allies Vietnam and the Philippines, while Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan also lay claim to parts of the South China Sea.
Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Miral Fahmy