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Philippines: China may be building airstrip at disputed reef
by Staff Writers
Manila (AFP) May 14, 2014

China expresses 'serious concerns' over Vietnam violence
Beijing (AFP) May 14, 2014 - Beijing expressed "serious concerns" Wednesday over protests in Vietnam that saw more than a dozen factories set on fire by anti-China demonstrators enraged at its deployment of an oil rig in disputed waters.

China made "solemn representations" and asked Vietnam to take all necessary steps to stop and punish the crimes, foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters at a regular briefing.

"China expresses serious concerns about the incident," Hua said.

The foreign ministry "launched solemn representations with the Vietnamese ambassador to China, urging the Vietnamese side to immediately take effective steps to resolutely stop and punish these crimes, and to ensure the safety of Chinese citizens and institutions in Vietnam," she added.

China and Vietnam are locked in a longstanding territorial dispute in the South China Sea over islands and waters which both countries claim.

The tensions were heightened last week when Beijing moved a state-owned, deep-water drilling rig for the first time into waters near the Paracel islands, a move Hanoi has condemned as "illegal".

There have been repeated skirmishes near the oil rig in recent days involving vessels from the two countries, with collisions and the use of water cannon.

There has also been a rare outburst of public unrest in Vietnam, where authorities said 500 rioters have been arrested in connection with the anti-China protests.

Beijing has accused Hanoi of being the provocateur at sea, saying Vietnamese vessels were the first to begin ramming while Chinese ships merely responded as necessary while exercising restraint.

Hua said Vietnamese ships rammed Chinese vessels 169 times on Tuesday, adding that Hanoi brought journalists on board to try to publicise its "false" portrayal of the situation.

"Within one day the Vietnamese side rammed Chinese vessels as many as 169 times, in coordination with its organising journalists to go to the site to do reporting," Hua said.

"This was all done for show, in an attempt to present a false picture and deceive the public."

The Philippines warned on Wednesday that China may be building an airstrip on a reef in the South China Sea, boosting the superpower's claim to most of the strategic Asian waters.

Filipino surveillance aircraft have been monitoring large-scale reclamation and earthmoving activity on Chinese-held Johnson South Reef since January, the defence department said.

Asked if China was building an airstrip on the reef, also claimed by the Philippines and Vietnam, Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said: "That's one possibility".

Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying, would not confirm the Philippine claim, but asserted the outcrop was Chinese territory.

"Whatever construction China carries out on the reef is a matter entirely within the scope of China's sovereignty. I don't know what particular intentions the Philippines has in caring so much about this," she said at a regular press briefing Wednesday.

Last week, the Chinese press downplayed the activity at the reef, saying it was merely to renovate the living facilities for troops stationed there.

"We can confirm that there is ongoing reclamation or earthmoving activities in that portion," Filipino defence department spokesman Peter Galvez told reporters Wednesday.

"It has been getting bigger and bigger."

Del Rosario told reporters the Philippines had filed a diplomatic protest against China's reclamation works on the reef last month, but Beijing rejected it on grounds the reef is part of Chinese territory.

The Philippines calls the outcrop the Mabini Reef, while China calls it Chigua Reef. Internationally, it is recognised as the Johnson South Reef.

It is part of the Spratly chain, and is located about 300 kilometres (186 miles) west of the large western Philippine island of Palawan.

China seized the reef and other outcrops from Vietnam in a deadly 1988 skirmish.

- Strained ties -

It is not the first time the Philippines has made allegations against China over construction at disputed outcrops in the sea.

In September last year, Manila accused Beijing of laying concrete blocks on disputed Scarborough Shoal that it said could be a "prelude to construction".

However, in an embarrassing about-face, Manila dropped the allegations weeks later after concluding that the concrete blocks were previously-existing structures.

The Philippines said China took effective control of the shoal in 2012, stationing patrol vessels and shooing away Filipino fishermen, after a stand-off with the Philippine Navy.

Beijing's claim to nearly all of the South China Sea, which straddles vital sea lanes and is believed to sit on vast oil and gas reserves, has strained its ties with neighbours.

Earlier this month, Vietnam accused China of ramming its ships in an encounter near another part of the sea where Beijing had deployed a deep-sea oil rig.

Those actions were described as "provocative" by US Secretary of State John Kerry in a phone call to Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

The Philippines in March filed a formal plea to the United Nations challenging Beijing's alleged territorial claims to about 70 percent of the South China Sea, in defiance of Chinese warnings that it would seriously damage their already-frayed relations.

Manila contends that, under international law, it has exclusive rights to exploit the resources of waters and outcrops within its "exclusive economic zone", defined as those within 370 kilometres (200 nautical miles) of its coast.

Beijing has rejected UN arbitration and urged Manila to settle the dispute through bilateral talks instead.

The Chinese claims to the sea also overlap those of Taiwan as well as Brunei and Malaysia.

Meanwhile, the Philippines said Wednesday two of the 11 Chinese fishermen arrested last week by Filipino police in another area of the Spratlys were flown to Guangzhou late Tuesday.

Manila filed charges against their nine colleagues for poaching and collecting protected species, but freed the two because they are minors.


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