BEIJING, Jan 23 (Reuters) - China said on Wednesday that a request by the Philippines for a U.N. tribunal to intervene in its longstanding South China Sea territorial dispute with China would only complicate the issue, and denounced Manila’s “illegal occupation” of islands there.
Manila has asked the tribunal of the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to order a halt to China’s activities that the Philippines says violates the Southeast Asian nation’s sovereignty.
China’s claims over islands, reefs and atolls in resource-rich waters off its south coast and to the east of mainland Southeast Asia set it directly against Vietnam and the Philippines, while Brunei, Taiwan and Malaysia also lay claim to parts.
Asked about the Philippines’ move, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said its southern neighbour was occupying some of China’s islands in the South China Sea.
“China has consistently opposed the Philippines’ illegal occupation,” he told a daily news briefing.
China supports talks, but only on a bilateral basis with the countries directly involved, as previously agreed on by China and members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Hong added.
“We hope that the relevant country honours its promises, and ... does not take any action to complicate or expand the problem,” he said, without elaborating.
It was not clear how the tribunal could help. While all its decisions are binding on countries concerned, it has no power to enforce them. (Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Ron Popeski)