The Philippines warned on Monday that the frequent presence of Chinese ships in disputed waters in the South China Sea could spark renewed tensions between the two neighbors.
Manila said the vessels’ presence in the area is part of a pattern of “illegitimate sovereignty patrols”, the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday.
The ships are regularly seen in an area called Reed Bank, which is potentially rich in oil and natural gas, Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman Charles Jose was quoted as saying.
Manila claims sovereignty over Reed Bank, saying it is inside the 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone set under a United Nations convention.
In a television interview over the weekend, President Benigno Aquino III said two Chinese research ships had been spotted by the Philippine navy at Reed Bank which could lead to “increased tensions.”
The Philippines has a pending arbitration case against China before an international tribunal over which country owns various disputed territories in the South China Sea.
In 2010, the Philippines granted London-listed Forum Energy Plc. a license to explore within Reed Bank for oil and natural gas.
The following year, Chinese vessels chased a survey ship hired by Forum Energy and the company has not returned to the area since.
Manila gave the company a license extension until 2016.
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