MANILA - The Philippines has protested against China's driving away of its civilian supply ships that tried to approach a disputed reef in the South China Sea.
The Department of Foreign Affairs yesterday summoned the Chinese charge d'affaires and handed him a protest note saying that China's actions on Sunday constitute "a clear and urgent threat to the rights and interests of the Philippines", a department statement said.
On Monday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said Chinese ships were patrolling waters around Second Thomas Shoal, known in China as Ren'ai reef and in the Philippines as Ayungin Shoal, when they spotted two Philippine-flagged vessels. The ships left the area after being warned off, he said.
The Philippines yesterday insisted that the vessels were "civilian", and that these were "contracted by the Philippine Navy" to conduct "rotation of personnel and resupply operations".
The vessels were apparently headed for a ship that Manila had run aground on the reef in 1999 to mark it as its territory. The navy stations a platoon of marines on the ship to guard it.
China has demanded that the ship be removed, but Manila insists it cannot do so due to "logistics problems". Mr Qin said: "This time, the Philippine side has again attempted to start construction on the reef. The moves infringed China's sovereignty."
In response, Manila said yesterday: "Ayungin Shoal is part of the continental shelf of the Philippines and the Philippines, therefore, is entitled to exercise sovereignty rights and jurisdiction in the area without the permission of other states."
The latest incident followed another in January in which Chinese Coast Guard ships used water cannons to drive away Philippine fishing boats near Scarborough Shoal, another disputed rocky outcrop.
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