MANILA (Reuters) - The Philippines dismissed concerns by China over its plan to repair military facilities in South China Sea, a foreign ministry spokesman said on Saturday, insisting Manila has sovereign rights over territories in the disputed areas.
The possible repair “is no way comparable to China’s massive reclamation activities, which not only violate international law...but also unnecessarily raise regional tensions”, spokesman Charles Jose said in a statement.
“China’s recent statement expressing concern over what the Philippines plan to do should not distract us from the real issues in the South China Sea, which are China’s illegitimate ‘nine-dash line’ claim,” Jose said.
Maritime lawyers note Beijing routinely outlines the scope of its claims with reference to the so-called nine-dashed line that takes in about 90 percent of the 3.5 million square kilometers South China Sea on Chinese maps.
The South China Sea is believed to be rich in oil and gas. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan lay claim to parts of the sea, where about $5 trillion of ship-borne trade passes every year.
The territorial dispute is seen as one of Asia’s hot spots, carrying risks that it could spiral out of control and result in conflict as countries aggressively stake their claims.
On Friday, China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said it was “seriously concerned” by the remarks by Philippine Foreign Minister Albert del Rosario on the possible resumption of repairs on an airstrip on Thitu Island.
“This is not only a serious infringement of China’s sovereignty, but it also exposes the Philippines’ hypocrisy,” she told a daily news briefing, calling on the Philippines to withdraw from the islands.
Manila had halted activities last year over concerns about the effect on an international arbitration complaint it filed against China in 2013. A decision is expected in early 2016. Hua repeated that China would not participate in the case.
Manila called on all claimant-states last October to stop construction work on small islands and reefs in the South China Sea. China itself is undertaking massive reclamation works in the area, while Taiwan, Malaysia and Vietnam have also been improving their facilities.
Reporting By Manuel Mogato; Editing by Michael Perry