|Desiree Sison |||Sep 06, 2016 09:14 AM EDT|
(Photo : Getty Images) The Philippines has said that China is set to start reclamation work on the disputed Scarborough Shoal based on recent images taken of the area.
The Philippines has expressed worry after a swarm of Chinese vessels have been stationed close to the disputed Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea, sparking concerns that Beijing plans to conduct land reclamation work in the disputed area.
The move comes despite the United States' warning in March that China should stay away from the shoal or face military action.
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Delfin Lorenzana, the head of the Philippines defense ministry, showed photos of five Chinese Coast Guard ships and six other fishing vessels positioned less than a mile away from the Scarborough Shoal. The area where the shoal is located is being claimed by China and the Philippines.
In an interview on Monday, Lorenzana said the photos, which were taken by the Philippine Navy, showed what could be dredges that would be used by China to start reclamation work on the shoal.
Lorenzana said about four Chinese Coast Guard vessels have been permanently stationed near the shoal in the past weeks with six other vessels carrying what looked like large machines.
The Philippines defense minister said Manila lodged a diplomatic protest with the Chinese ambassador last week over the Chinese ships near the shoal, but the envoy denied there were ships in the area.
Lorenzana said authorities would re-lodge the diplomatic protest with the ambassador now that there are photos to show as evidence.
US defense officials have said that the US could defend the Philippines under the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty if China starts work on the disputed shoal.
1951 Mutual Defense Treaty
Military experts claim that China's plans to carry out land reclamation work and build an airstrip on the Philippine-claimed Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea. They warned that the move could prompt a harsh response from the United States as part of its obligation to defend Manila, one of its close allies.
The US and the Philippines are both signatories to the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty, which states that both nations would support each other if either the Philippines or the United States were to be attacked by an external party.
As the leaders of the G20 converged to discuss global and regional issues at a summit in the Chinese city of Hangzhou last Sunday, the presence of the Chinese ships and vessels in the disputed shoal seemed particularly instigating.
US officials have been on their toes in monitoring China's moved around the Scarborough Shoal after the summit. US President Barack Obama allegedly raised the issue with China's President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the two-day summit.
China has been eyeing the Scarborough Shoal as one of the best features in the South China Sea where it can build artificial islands and facilities. However, the US has said that China could use its artificial islands for military purposes.
Beijing has built artificial islands and military facilities in the Spratly group of islands over the years. Some are very near the Scarborough Shoal,
US military officials have expressed fear that China might build a larger military base in the disputed shoal complete with facilities in its desire to extend its reach in the disputed South China Sea.
Last month, an arbitral court ruled that there is no legal basis for China's territorial claims in the South China Sea. The court stated that Beijing's actions violated international law and the Philippines' right to explore its resources in the Scarborough Shoal.
The court ruled that the shoal was the Philippines' traditional fishing ground and that China deprived Filipino fishermen of their livelihood when it seized the shoal in 2012 during a standoff between Chinese and Philippine naval forces.
China refused to accept the ruling, saying it was "illegal" and "null and void."
Despite calls from the international community for China to abide by the ruling, Beijing has remained tough on its stance that it would not accept any actions or propositions by any state based on the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA).
Beijing said it would continue to uphold its sovereignty to the islands and reefs in the disputed sea.
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