DEFENSE officials accused China on Wednesday of expanding reclamation work in disputed waters of the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) as the United States again called for restraint in the territorial conflict.
Philippine and US officials spoke as the longstanding allies ended a two-day strategic dialogue in Manila, reaffirming defense and economic cooperation.
“The Chinese activities in the West Philippine Sea continue to be a serious concern, arising from reports of greater development in reclamation,” Defense Undersecretary Pio Lorenzo Batino told reporters.
Batino refused to elaborate on the progress of the reclamation, saying only: “It’s very serious. It has grown.”
Foreign undersecretary Evan Garcia described the Chinese reclamation work as “massive” and a violation of an agreement among South China Sea claimants not to build new structures until a binding code of conduct is in place.
“It is not helpful in finding a way forward. It is not an example of what everyone would understand as self-restraint,” Garcia said.
“It is not a positive development to promote common and shared respect and understanding of the rule of law,” he added.
The Philippines last year accused China of blasting sand and rocks to reclaim areas around reefs in the sea. Facilities under construction reportedly include an airstrip.
The US has “laid out a persuasive case for restraint” in the South China Sea, said assistant secretary of state Daniel Russel, calling the territorial disputes an “ongoing concern.”
“We believe bigger nations can’t bully the small,” he said.
“We have a huge interest in stable, healthy, constructive bilateral relations with China,” Russel said, but the US was also concerned about “behavior that raises tensions, behaviour that raises questions about China’s intentions.”
US assistant defense secretary David Shear said Washington strongly supports Philippine efforts to modernize its military, which is one of the weakest in the region.