The Philippines expressed “grave concern” over what it called an increasing number of Chinese boats near the disputed Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea, Reuters reports.
It demanded an explanation from China’s ambasador.
A Philippines air force plane flew over the rocky outcrop on Saturday and spotted more boats than usual in a flotilla China has maintained since seizing the shoal after a tense standoff in 2012, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said.
“There were four Chinese coastguard ships and six other vessels, including blue-colored barges, around Scarborough Shoal,” Lorenzana said in a text message sent to reporters.
“The presence of many ships other than coastguard in the area is a cause of grave concern.”
Manila says China’s blockade of the shoal, a rich fishing ground, is a violation of international law.
The Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled on July 12 that no one country had sovereign rights over activity in the Scarborough Shoal.
China has refused to recognize the ruling.
Manila’s comment could cause a stir ahead of a regional summit in Laos starting on Tuesday, where leaders of Southeast Asian states as well as China, Japan and United States will meet.
Lorenzana said Beijing had earlier this year tried to send dredging barges to the shoal, but there was no sign of any reclamation activity so far.
China previously used barges to dredge sand for its seven man-made islands in the Spratlys.
“We don’t know yet if those barges are precursors of future dredging operations,” he said.
“If they try to construct anything in Scarborough it will have far-reaching adverse effect on the security situation.”
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