MANILA • The Philippines has protested against China's continuing "illegal presence and activities" near an island in the South China Sea held by the South-east Asian nation, the Foreign Ministry said yesterday.
Manila lodged the diplomatic protest on Friday over the "incessant deployment, prolonged presence, and illegal activities of Chinese maritime assets and fishing vessels" in the vicinity of Thitu island. It demanded that its giant neighbour withdraw the vessels.
The Chinese embassy in Manila did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Tensions between Manila and Beijing have escalated over the months-long presence of hundreds of Chinese boats in the Philippines' 320km exclusive economic zone. The Philippines believes the vessels were manned by militia, while Beijing has said they were fishing boats sheltering from bad weather.
The Philippine Foreign Ministry said: "The Pag-asa islands are an integral part of the Philippines over which it has sovereignty and jurisdiction."
Thitu, known as Pag-asa in the Philippines and located 451km from the mainland, is the biggest of the eight reefs, shoals and islands that it occupies in the Spratly archipelago.
China has built a mini-city with runways, hangars and surface-to-air-missiles in the Subi Reef about 25km from Thitu.
This was at least the 84th diplomatic protest the Philippines has filed against China since President Rodrigo Duterte took office in 2016.
Meanwhile, the United States' Customs and Border Protection (CBP) on Friday said that it would block imports of products from China's Dalian Ocean Fishing Co for alleged use of forced labour and abuse of workers on its tuna vessels.
"Companies that exploit their workers have no place doing business in the United States," said Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.
The CBP said it had evidence of forced labour, withholding of wages, and abusive working and living conditions aboard Dalian Ocean's 33 longline tuna vessels.
The Customs agency has in the past issued similar import blocks on specific Chinese fishing boats, but never before on an entire company's fleet. Dalian Ocean has been accused several times of abuse by human rights and environmental groups.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE