China slams Philippines for criticising island project in South China Sea

BEIJING - China on Monday hit back at the Philippines for criticising Beijing's ongoing reclamation project in the disputed South China Sea, saying that its actions were within the scope of Chinese sovereignty.

China lays claim to almost all of the entire South China Sea, believed to be rich with minerals and oil-and-gas deposits. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan also have claims.

The United States has called on China to stop the land reclamation project that could be large enough to accommodate an airstrip. Beijing has called those remarks "irresponsible", signaling that it would firmly reject proposals by any country to freeze any activity that may raise tension.

Last week, Philippines General Gregorio Catapang told reporters that China's reclamation in the area is "50 per cent complete". "It is alarming in the sense that it could be used for other purposes other than for peaceful means," he said.

China reiterated that Beijing had "indisputable sovereignty"over the Spratly Islands, where most of the overlapping claims lie, especially between China and the Philippines.

"China's actions on the relevant islands and reefs are all matters within the scope of China's sovereignty," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a daily news briefing.

Aerial images from the Philippines military and a leading US defence publication show China is developing an airstrip on one of the islands.

The construction has stoked concern that China may be converting disputed territory in the archipelago into military installations.