China reclaiming land in 2 more disputed reefs, says Philippine President Aquino

A view of Johnson South Reef, known to China as Chigua Reef, in the South China Sea in this handout photograph taken on February 28, 2013 by the Armed Forces of the Philippines and released by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on May 14, 2014.
A view of Johnson South Reef, known to China as Chigua Reef, in the South China Sea in this handout photograph taken on February 28, 2013 by the Armed Forces of the Philippines and released by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on May 14, 2014. China has deployed ships that can be used to reclaim land in two more disputed reefs in the Spratlys island chain, Philippine President Benigno Aquino said on June 5 2014.- FILE PHOTO: REUTERS

MANILA - China has deployed ships that can be used to reclaim land in two more disputed reefs in the Spratlys island chain, Philippine President Benigno Aquino has disclosed.

In a news briefing on Thursday, Mr Aquino said vessels that were similar to the ones China used to move gravel and sand at Johnson South Reef had been spotted around Gavin and Cuateron Reefs.

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"We are again bothered that there seems to be developments in other areas within the disputed seas," he told reporters.

Johnson South, Gavin and Cuateron Reefs are all part of a chain of islands in the South China Sea known as the Spratlys that are being disputed by China, the Philippines and Malaysia.

Last month, Philippine security officials released surveillance photos that showed a "sizeable reclamation" at Johnson South Reef where the Chinese were reportedly planning to build an airstrip.

Commenting on China's refusal to meet a Dec 15 deadline set by an international arbitration court to respond to a case filed by the Philippines, meanwhile, Mr Aquino said that was within Beijing's right.

He reiterated, however, that a ruling in Manila's favour would make it clear before the international community that China's so-called nine-dash line, which covers 90 per cent of the South China Sea, has no basis in international law.

Addressing China, he said: "If they are responsible, and they always claim to be a responsible member of the international community, it is our hope that they conform to all the treaties, covenants and agreements they have entered into, not just with us but with so many other countries."

The United Nations Permanent Court of Arbitration on Tuesday gave Beijing until Dec 15 to respond to a 4,000-page "memorial" filed by Manila in March this year protesting what it regards as China's encroachments on its territories.

rdancel@sph.com.sg