Philippines protests over Chinese reef 'reclamation'

MANILA (AFP) - The Philippines said on Saturday it had filed a protest with Beijing for reclaiming land on a disputed South China Sea reef, the fourth such complaint in three months.

The new protest over reclamation at the McKeenan Reef in the Spratly Islands chain further heats up an increasingly tense dispute over the waters where China has been accused of using bullying tactics against other claimants.

Foreign department spokesman Charles Jose said the protest was filed last week. "They are doing reclamation work," he said in a brief statement.

He did not say if China had responded.

The Philippines previously filed an objection against China in April after monitoring large-scale reclamation and earth-moving activity on Johnson South Reef, which it said might be intended to turn the tiny outcrop into an island with an airstrip.

It later announced a similar challenge over Chinese reclamation at Gaven and Cuateron Reef. China has previously brushed aside such protests, saying the outcrops are part of its territory.

All four reefs were already occupied by Chinese forces but are also claimed by the Philippines.

China claims the Spratly Islands along with nearly all of the South China Sea, which contains vital sea routes and is also believed to hold large mineral resources.

The Philippines, along with Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan have conflicting claims to parts or all of the same territory, which has led to tense confrontations in recent years.

In recent weeks, China and Vietnam have traded accusations of their ships ramming each other after China set up an oil rig in a South China Sea area also claimed by Vietnam.

The Philippines asked a United Nations tribunal in March to declare China's claim to most of the South China Sea illegal.

However, China has refused to take part in the proceedings.

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