Philippines is not provoking conflict in South China Sea, its military says

MANILA (Reuters) -The Philippines is not provoking conflict in the South China Sea, its military spokesperson said on Tuesday, responding to China’s accusation that Manila was encroaching on Beijing’s territory.

It was the latest salvo amid rising tension as the two have traded accusations in recent months over a series of maritime run-ins, including China allegedly ramming a ship this month carrying the Philippines’ military chief.

“The Philippines is not provoking conflict,” Medel Aguilar told state broadcaster PTV.

“We follow international law and we are only implementing our domestic law, meaning the limits of our territorial waters and exclusive economic zone, where we have sovereign rights.”

The comments came a day after the People’s Daily, the mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, wrote that the Philippines had relied on U.S. support to continually provoke China.

This “extremely dangerous” behaviour seriously harmed regional peace and stability, it added.

Aguilar said Philippine activities would not put vessels and seafarers in danger, instead accusing China of carrying out dangerous manoeuvres that sometimes result in collisions at sea.

“They are the ones committing all the violations,” he added.

On Tuesday, the Chinese embassy in Manila said the Philippines was causing tension by sending construction supplies to its grounded navy vessel in the Second Thomas Shoal.

“The Philippines, bolstered by external support, has brushed aside China’s goodwill and restraint and repeatedly challenged China’s principles and red line,” it said, citing China’s foreign ministry.

At a regular briefing in Beijing, a spokesperson for the foreign ministry reiterated that recent events were “entirely” due to the Philippines changing its position, walking back on its commitments and “deliberately” causing provocation.

“We hope that the Philippine side will make a sensible choice, return to the right track of properly resolving differences through dialogue and consultation, and work with China to manage the maritime situation,” Mao Ning said.

The comment came in response to a query whether China had a limit regarding the Philippine comments and activities.

The Philippines regularly deploys resupply missions for its soldiers living aboard an aging warship deliberately run aground in 1999 to protect Manila’s maritime claims.

China claims almost the entire South China Sea with its so-called nine-dash line that overlaps the exclusive economic zones of rival claimants Brunei, Malaysia, Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.

A 2016 arbitral tribunal ruling invalidated China’s claim in the strategic waters, which Beijing did not recognise.

(Reporting by Mikhail Flores; Additional reporting by Liz Lee in Beijing; Editing by Kanupriya Kapoor)

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