Southeast Asian leaders meet amid tension over Beijing’s increasingly assertive claims to territory in South China Sea.
The Philippines and Japan have both expressed serious concern over China’s actions in the South China Sea at a regional meeting of Asian leaders in Laos.
Hours before leaders of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) met China’s Premier Li Keqiang at the summit in Vientiane on Wednesday, the Philippines released photos purportedly showing Chinese vessels near a disputed chain of reefs and rocks in the South China Sea.
The Philippines said the images showed Chinese ships near Scarborough Shoal and that the vessels were capable of dredging sand and other activities required to build artificial islands.
“We have reason to believe that their presence is a precursor to building activities on the shoal,” Arsenio Andolong, the Philippines defence department spokesman, told AFP news agency.
“We are continuing our surveillance and monitoring of their presence and activities, which are disturbing,” he said.
“We are gravely concerned.”
Japan’s Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, also expressed concern about China’s increasing muscular claims to dispute maritime territory in the South China Sea on Wednesday.
“I am seriously concerned with the continuing attempts to change unilaterally the status quo in the East and South China Sea,” Abe said in a statement released at the Asean summit.
Abe called for a “peaceful settlement of the dispute” between the Philippines and China over their competing claims in the sea.