Philippines summons Chinese ambassador over reef dispute

MANILA, Philippines (AP) - The Philippine government urged the Chinese ambassador to urge calls by Chinese ships to leave a reef claimed by Manila in the South China Sea immediately, saying their presence has sparked tension, officials said Tuesday .
The escalating feud between Manila and Beijing began after more than 200 Chinese ships suspected by the Philippine authorities of being militia-operated were discovered on Whitsun early last month. The Philippine government urged ships to abandon the coast guard and send patrol ships into the area, but China said it owned the reef and the Chinese ships were protecting themselves from rough seas.
After the Filipino Foreign Minister Elizabeth Buensuceso summoned Ambassador Huang Xilian on Monday, she expressed Manila's "displeasure with the illegal presence of Chinese ships around the Julian Felipe Reef," the Foreign Affairs Department said in a statement using the Filipino name for the whit used became the hottest disputed Spratlys region of the busy waterway.
"The continued presence of Chinese ships around the reef is a source of regional tension," said Buensuceso.
She repeated to Huang that the reef, which is about 324 kilometers west of the Philippine province of Palawan, is located in an internationally recognized offshore zone in which Manila has the exclusive right to use fisheries, oil, gas and other resources.
She also cited a 2016 ruling in international arbitration filed by the Philippines against China that invalidated Beijing's far-reaching claims on historical grounds against virtually the entire South China Sea under a 1982 United States maritime treaty.
The Philippine military said aerial surveillance revealed some of the Chinese ships had left the reef, but more than 40 were stuck in the area at the end of March. It invalidated China's claims that the ships protected from rough seas and said the weather around the reef was fine.
The United States has announced that it will stand by the Philippines in the stalemate. The Department of Defense in Manila said last week that the Philippines could enlist help from the US, with whom they have a mutual defense treaty, to protect their interests in the South China Sea.
The high-profile protests by the Philippines against China against Pentecost developed amid the more comfortable relations that President Rodrigo Duterte had with China after taking office in mid-2016. Duterte has repeatedly been criticized for not urging China to comply with the 2016 arbitration ruling and for speaking out more strongly against China's measures in the disputed waters.
The Spratly chain of islands, islets and atolls is claimed in whole or in part by China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei. China has turned seven controversial reefs into missile-protected island bases in recent years, adding to tensions in what has long been feared as a potential hot spot in Asia.

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