SHAFAQNA -Â ChinaÂ has accused theÂ PhilippinesÂ of violating a 13-year-old informal code of conduct in the SouthÂ ChinaÂ Sea with its building work on disputed islets, firing back again after repeated criticism ofÂ China’s own construction work.
ChinaÂ and the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) signed an agreement in 2002 to refrain from occupying uninhabited reefs and shoals in the sea, and from building new structures that would complicate disputes.
In a statement just before midnight on Monday,Â China’s Foreign Ministry urged theÂ PhilippinesÂ to stop its “malicious hyping and provocation” on the dispute, whose basis, it said, was Manila’s illegal occupation of certainÂ Chinese islands.
“TheÂ PhilippinesÂ side has conducted large-scale construction of military and civil facilities, including airports, ports and barracks on those islands for many years,” the ministry said.
The statement was issued after theÂ PhilippinesÂ Foreign Ministry said it wasÂ ChinaÂ that had violated the code with its construction, and was accusing Manila to justify and provide cover for Chinese reclamation work.
“ChinaÂ has never, ever taken actions that may complicate and deteriorate the disputes or affect regional peace and stability,” the Chinese ministry said, urging Manila to stop all building work and evacuate its people.
The Philippine foreign minister deniedÂ China’s accusations of recent massive reclamation, saying the country had done minor, but legal, repair and maintenance within its 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone in the disputed area some years ago.
“We were doing some repairs and maintenance after the Declaration of Conduct of Parties in theÂ South China SeaÂ (DOC) but repairs and maintenance is allowed,” Albert del Rosario said.
“Massive reclamation is not. Building on features in terms of massive reclamation is not allowed. That is in violation of not only the DOC, but the U.N.Convention on the Law of the Sea.”
Disputes over how to tackle an increasingly assertive stance byÂ ChinaÂ – an ally of several Southeast Asian states – in the strategicÂ South China SeaÂ make the issue the region’s biggest potential military flashpoint.
ChinaÂ last week accusedÂ Vietnam, theÂ PhilippinesÂ and others of carrying out their own illegal building work.
ChinaÂ claims 90 percent of theÂ South China Sea, which is believed to be rich in oil and gas, with overlapping claims fromÂ Brunei,Â Malaysia, theÂ Philippines,Â VietnamÂ andÂ Taiwan.
Recent satellite images showÂ ChinaÂ has made rapid progress in building an airstrip suitable for military use in the disputedÂ Spratly IslandsÂ and may be planning another.
Those moves have caused alarm in the region, and Washington, too.