China says Manila provoking trouble in seas ahead of legal case

BEIJING Mon Mar 31, 2014 3:49pm IST

The BRP Sierra Madre, a marooned transport ship which Philippine Marines live on as a military outpost, is pictured in the disputed Second Thomas Shoal, part of the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea March 30, 2014. REUTERS/Erik De Castro

The BRP Sierra Madre, a marooned transport ship which Philippine Marines live on as a military outpost, is pictured in the disputed Second Thomas Shoal, part of the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea March 30, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Erik De Castro

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BEIJING (Reuters) - China accused the Philippines on Monday of deliberately provoking trouble in the South China Sea by delivering supplies to a contested military outpost at the same time as seeking international arbitration in the dispute.

A Philippine vessel delivered food, water and fresh troops to Second Thomas Shoal over the weekend, evading two Chinese coastguard ships trying to block its path.

Raising the stakes over the South China Sea, the Philippines filed a case against China on Sunday at an arbitration tribunal in The Hague, subjecting Beijing to international legal scrutiny over the waters for the first time.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Manila, by carrying out the delivery with reporters on the ship to record the scene at the same the country was seeking arbitration, was deliberately trying to create tension.

"This shows that the reason the Philippines is pushing the international arbitration case is to conceal their plot to illegally occupy Chinese territory and create trouble in the South China Sea," Hong told a daily news briefing.

Hong repeated that China would never allow the Philippines to occupy the shoal, called Ren'ai Reef by the Chinese, or build infrastructure there.

"The Philippine side will certainly face consequences for its provocative actions," he said, without elaborating.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino, speaking to reporters on Monday, said he was not seeking confrontation.

"We are not here to challenge China, to provoke them into any action, but I do believe that they should recognise we have the right to defend our own interests," he said.

The U.S. State Department said all countries should respect the right of any state to use dispute resolution mechanisms under the Convention on the Law of the Sea, and called on all parties to exercise restraint.

China says it neither recognises nor will participate in the arbitration.

Hong said the United States was not a party to the dispute and had said many times it would not take a position.

"We demand that the United States be as good as their word, and do more to benefit peace and stability in the South China Sea, not the opposite."

China displays its claims to the South China Sea on official maps with a so-called nine-dash line that stretches deep into the maritime heart of Southeast Asia.

Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have claims to parts of the potentially energy-rich waters.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Additional reporting by Manny Mogato in MANILA; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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