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The Philippines is attempting to heighten tensions in the South China Sea ahead of upcoming meetings of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in July, observers said.
Their comments followed the deployment of a fresh batch of Philippine marines and supplies to a warship that has been illegally grounded on a Chinese reef since 1999.
Filipino Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said he had discussed the new deployment with Chinese Ambassador Ma Keqing. Ma raised concerns that the Philippines was planning to erect concrete structures at the reef, but Gazmin said he had assured Ma there was no such plan.
Gazmin stressed that the Philippines was free to undertake any activity in the reef without notifying China, and the reason he discussed the issue with Ma is to prevent a possible confrontation between Chinese and Filipino forces.
Manila aims to heighten regional tensions so that the issue will top the agenda at ASEAN meetings, said Xu Liping, a researcher on Asia-Pacific studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
But it will not achieve its goal because China and countries that have territorial claims over islands and waters in the South China Sea are seeking ways to resolve the issue through bilateral dialogue, he said.
On Wednesday, China and Vietnam agreed to set up an emergency hotline to resolve maritime disputes.
Xu said it shows that China and concerned countries are capable of containing risks in the South China Sea.
China will never accept the Philippines' illegal seizure of the Ren'ai Reef, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said at a news conference in May.
"China's determination and will to safeguard sovereignty is unswerving, and it will never accept the Philippines' illegal seizure of the Ren'ai Reef in any form," he said, adding that China has indisputable sovereignty over the Nansha Islands and its surrounding waters.
He recalled how a Philippine warship illegally landed on the beach of the Ren'ai Reef of China's Nansha Islands in 1999, claiming it had been stranded. Since then, China has made solemn representations to the Philippines dozens of times, demanding that the country tow the warship.
Meanwhile, the Philippines and the United States planned to hold joint naval drills in the South China Sea next week between the main island of Luzon and China's Huangyan Island, the Filipino navy said on Thursday.
The exercises, from June 27 to July 2, will be held about 108 km east of the island, said Manila's navy spokesman Lieutenant-Commander Gregory Fabic.
"This was planned way back in 2010. Whatever happened since then was purely coincidental," Fabic said.
Yang Baoyun, a professor of Asia-Pacific studies at Peking University, said the Philippines is attempting to show its military muscles.
Manila is always seeking US support on the issue of the South China Sea, where Washington needs it to implement the Asia-rebalancing strategy, he said, adding that China may intensify patrols near the Huangyan Island in response.
(China Daily 06/21/2013 page11)