MANILA, Philippines: A top Filipino official has warned of additional moves by the Chinese in the South China Sea.
"The continued presence of Chinese maritime militias in the area reveals their intent to further occupy (areas) in the West Philippine Sea (local name for the South China Sea)," Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said in a statement, as quoted by Reuters.
This was the second warning issued by Lorenzana in two days, even as he repeated calls by the Philippines for the removal of over 200 Chinese boats surrounding Whitsun Reef.
Chinese diplomats have said the boats had anchored near the reef due to rough seas. He also denied that Chinese militia were aboard.
Lorenzana responded, saying that 44 Chinese vessels were still anchored off the reef, even though the weather had improved.
"I am no fool. The weather has been good so far, so they have no reason to stay there," he said.
In response, the Chinese Embassy in Manila issued a statement, saying it was "completely normal" for Chinese vessels to fish in the area of the reef.
"Nobody has the right to make wanton remarks on such activities," it added.
"They have done this (occupy disputed areas) before at Panatag Shoal or Bajo de Masinloc and at Panganiban Reef, brazenly violating Philippine sovereignty and sovereign rights under international law," Lorenzana fired back.
In past years an international tribunal has said China's claim to 90 percent of the South China Sea was baseless. However, it has built artificial islands in the waters and equipped them with radar, missile batteries, and hangars for fighter jets.