MANILA - The Philippines slammed on Friday moves by China to reclaim land on a disputed reef in the South China Sea in an apparent effort to build an airstrip.
Foreign Affairs Spokesman Charles Jose said photographs provided by Philippine intelligence sources prove that China is moving to reclaim Mabini Reef known also as Johnson South Reef.
"It is an infringement of our sovereignty...Definitely what they are doing is escalating the tension. For us, it is a violation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea," he told reporters.
A series of photographs released by the Department of Foreign Affairs Thursday appeared to show large-scale reclamation in the Mabini Reef in stages. The latest photograph dated March 11, 2014 appears to show a large light-colored landfill, surrounded by shallow turquoise waters.
Jose said the reclamation will have an effect on the Philippines' case seeking clarification on maritime jurisdiction and entitlements in the West Philippine Sea.
"For a rock under [United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea], you are entitled only to 12 nautical miles but if you change the character, the nature of that feature from a rock to an island, it will change the maritime entitlement (to 200 miles). They must not change the physical nature (of the outcrop)," he said.
Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying on Wednesday would not confirm Manila's claim, but asserted the outcrop was Chinese territory.
The Philippines said it filed a diplomatic protest against China's reclamation works on the reef last month, but Beijing rejected it on grounds the reef is part of Chinese territory.
Last week, the Chinese press downplayed the activity at the reef, saying it was merely to renovate the living facilities for troops stationed there.
The Philippines calls the outcrop, part of the Spratly chain, the Mabini Reef, while China calls it Chigua Reef. Internationally, it is recognized as the Johnson South Reef.
Manila says the reef falls within the country's 370-kilometer (200-nautical-mile) exclusive economic zone under a United Nations convention. With Agence France-Presse