Baku-APA. China plans to occupy a disputed chain of reefs and rocks in the South China Sea to expand its territory before regional rules on maritime behavior come into effect, the Philippines' top diplomat said on Wednesday, APA reports quoting Reuters.
The Philippines believes China's incursion into the Scarborough Shoal is a threat to peace in Southeast Asia, said Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario.
In Beijing, a foreign ministry spokesman described the shoal - which lies about 125 nautical miles off the Philippines' main island of Luzon - as China's "inherent territory".
In an interview with Reuters in his Manila office, del Rosario said the Philippines would file a diplomatic protest against China after it discovered concrete blocks on the shoal, which Chinese ships have occupied since April last year.
He urged regional governments to speed up talks on a binding code of conduct (CoC) governing behavior at sea.
"We think that China is trying to stay ahead of the CoC," he said. "We think that they have an assertion agenda that they are trying to complete before they are able to sit down and negotiate a CoC."
Tension over the South China Sea, one of the world's most strategically important waterways, has risen as China uses its growing naval might to assert extensive claims over the oil- and gas-rich waters more forcefully, fuelling fears of a military clash.
Four of the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), including Vietnam and the Philippines, have overlapping claims with China. Taiwan also has claims over the entire sea.
"This kind of activity places the region in jeopardy in terms of peace and stability," del Rosario said.
"If the Philippines is the target of China today, another country could be the target tomorrow. So this should be considered as a regional issue."
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei, asked about the Philippine's latest accusations, said they were not true, though he did not provide details.
"What the Philippines said of the situation is not true. The Scarborough Shoal is China's inherent territory," he told reporters in Beijing.
"Based on the present circumstances the Chinese government's official ships have been conducting normal patrols in the waters around the Scarborough Shoal in order to safeguard its sovereignty ... This is China's legitimate right and cannot be questioned."