China is moving towards de facto control of South China Sea: Philippines

KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) - Beijing is moving toward "de facto control" of the South China Sea, the Philippines warned on Sunday as it called on fellow South-east Asian countries to "stand up" to their massive neighbour.

Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei claim parts of the strategic South China Sea, but Beijing claims nearly all of it and its increasingly aggressive moves to assert those territorial ambitions have caused concern in the region and beyond.

"(China) is poised to consolidate de facto control of the South China Sea," Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario told fellow ministers at a regional meeting in Kuala Lumpur, according to a transcript of his remarks.

Foreign ministers met a day ahead of a summit by regional leaders that will convene amid growing concern over a Chinese land-reclamation campaign that is building up disputed reefs into full-fledged islands.

Satellite photos that emerged earlier this month triggered alarm bells by providing fresh evidence of the activities, which defence analysts have said are creating land masses big enough for airstrips and other large facilities.

Mr Rosario told his Asean colleagues that China "was clearly and quickly advancing with its massive reclamation" works.

"The threats posed by these massive reclamations are real and cannot be ignored or denied. Their adverse implications are urgent and far-reaching, going beyond the region to encompass the global community," he said.

"Is it not time for Asean to say to our northern neighbour that what it is doing is wrong and that the massive reclamations must be immediately stopped?"

The Philippines and Vietnam have repeatedly been involved in tense confrontations with China at sea, and have been the most outspoken countries in the region in criticising Chinese actions.

Manila is pushing for summit hosts Malaysia to come out with a strong statement rebuking China, something that Asean historically has avoided due to Beijing's immense trade and diplomatic leverage.

A draft statement prepared before the gathering began calls for "self-restraint", avoiding threats or use of force, and the peaceful resolution of disputes at sea, but avoids direct criticism of China, a diplomatic source said previously.

The statement could change, however, based on discussions in Malaysia.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.