BEIJING, Feb 5 (Reuters) - China on Thursday defended the actions of a coast guard vessel in the disputed South China Sea after the Philippines accused it of ramming three fishing boats and urged Manila to increase "indoctrination" of its fishermen.
The Philippines said on Wednesday that a Chinese coast guard ship had rammed three Philippine fishing boats in the disputed Scarborough Shoal area last week and Manila had protested to Beijing over the incident.
The news drew a stern rebuke from China's Foreign Ministry, which said that last Thursday, many fishing vessels from the Philippines were "illegally lingering" in the waters surrounding the Scarborough Shoal and did not abide by China's management.
"China's coast guard sent a dinghy to drive them away and slightly bumped one of the fishing vessels," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said at a daily news briefing.
"We ask that the Philippines strengthen education and indoctrination of its fishermen to prevent such incidents from happening again."
China seized control of the area after a three-month stand-off with the Philippine coast guard in 2012. Beijing lays claim the entire South China Sea, which is believed to be rich in oil and natural gas deposits.
Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan also claim areas of the sea where about $5 trillion ship-borne trade passes every year. All states except Brunei have a military presence in the disputed areas.
Hong said that the Chinese ship that was sailing in the waters of the Scarborough Shoal was maintaining "normal order" to safeguard the waters in accordance with the law.
The Philippines' foreign ministry said the "intentional" ramming of three local fishing boats had put the lives of fishermen at risk. (Reporting by Sui-Lee Wee; Editing by Nick Macfie)