MANILA - Manila protested on Tuesday against Beijing's blockade of civilian supply ships in disputed waters of the South China Sea, saying China's latest actions "constitute a clear and urgent threat to the rights and interests of the Philippines."
China's coast guard ships had driven away two Philippine vessels which had tried to approach a shoal in the South China Sea on Sunday, sparking the latest flare-up in a long-running territorial dispute.
The Department of Foreign Affairs summoned China's charge d' affaires Sun Xiangyang on Tuesday to hand over a strongly worded protest over the incident in the waters around the Second Thomas Shoal, which the Philippines refers to as the Ayungin Shoal.
In a statement, the foreign ministry "urged China to desist from any further interference with the efforts of the Philippines to undertake rotation and resupply operations at the Ayungin Shoal."
"Ayungin Shoal is part of the continental shelf of the Philippines and (it) is therefore entitled to exercise sovereignty rights and jurisdiction in the area without the permission of other states," the foreign ministry said.
The shoal, known in China as the Ren'ai reef.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said the Chinese patrol ships warned the Philippine vessels, carrying construction materials, not to intrude further into the waters around the reef and they left the area.
China's claim over islands, reefs and atolls that form the Spratlys, a group of 250 uninhabitable islets spread over 165,000 square miles, has set it directly against Vietnam and the Philippines, while Brunei, Taiwan and Malaysia also lay claim to parts.
The South China Sea provides 10 percent of the global fish catch, carries $5 trillion in ship borne trade a year and its seabed is believed to be rich with energy reserves.
Manila ran aground an old transport ship on the reef in 1999 to mark its territory, and has stationed marines in abject conditions on the rusting ship. The Philippines also occupies eight other features in the disputed Spratlys.
The Second Thomas Shoal, a strategic gateway to Reed Bank, believed to be rich in oil and natural gas, is one of several possible flashpoints in the South China Sea that could prompt the United States to intervene in defence of its Southeast Asian allies.
In 2010, Manila awarded an Anglo-Filipino consortium a licence to explore for gas on Reed Bank, but drilling stalled in 2012, because of the presence of Chinese ships.
Manila says Reed Bank, about 80 nautical miles west of Palawan island at the southwestern end of the Philippine archipelago, is within the country's 200-nautical mile (370 km) exclusive economic zone.