HONG KONG • A state-run Chinese newspaper has issued a veiled warning ahead of an international tribunal's ruling on a Philippine challenge to China's claims in the South China Sea.
People's Daily said in a commentary yesterday that the People's Liberation Army is fully capable of removing a Philippine naval vessel set up as a permanent base in a disputed atoll in the Spratlys.
The Philippine Navy deliberately grounded an old US-built landing craft, BRP Sierra Madre, on the disputed Second Thomas Shoal in the South China Sea in 1999. It has since kept a team of about a dozen military personnel on the ship to maintain occupation.
China has repeatedly protested against this and asked for the removal of the craft from the shoal, called Renai in Chinese.
Chinese coast guard vessels have previously blocked attempts by Philippine supply ships to approach the shoal and forced them to drop provisions by air to the badly corroded craft.
People's Daily said in the commentary that China has shown patience, but it is committed to defending its territory, reported the South China Morning Post.
"The story of the Renai Shoal best explains that China is fully capable of dragging away that Philippine vessel hanging in there," said People's Daily. "But for the stability of the South China Sea, China offers goodwill and patience and has always shown high restraint."
The commentary repeated that China would not accept any ruling from the international tribunal in The Hague. It has refused to take part in the hearings.
Last week, Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio said the tribunal may hand down a ruling in the first week of next month.
In 2013, Manila went to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague seeking to clarify its economic entitlements under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and declare void China's so-called "nine-dash line" claim on the South China Sea.
Incoming Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte said yesterday he woould not comment on the dispute until after the UN arbitration court has made its ruling, reported Reuters.
"We will wait for the decision before I make any public statement," he said in a speech in Davao City.
Beijing has mounted a public relations blitz to try to discredit the looming verdict, saying at least 47 countries have offered support for its refusal to recognise the Philippine case.
China's top diplomat Yang Jiechi yesterday arrived in Vietnam for a scheduled meeting to strengthen historically close relations.
Hanoi is not part of the Hague case, but it has overlapping claims with Beijing in some parts of the South China Sea.
Mr Yang was due to co-chair a "steering committee" that aims to strengthen ties and ward-off disputes, according to Reuters.
Mr Ha Hoang Hop, a Vietnamese academic who has advised the government, said there was "no hidden agenda" behind Mr Yang's visit and there were no compromises to be made over the South China Sea.