China said on Monday that coast guard ships had driven away two Philippine vessels which had tried to approach a shoal in the South China Sea in the latest flare-up of a long-running territorial dispute.
The Chinese ships were patrolling waters around Second Thomas Shoal, known in China as the Ren’ai reef, when they spotted the Philippine boats, carrying construction materials and Philippine flags, which left the area after being warned off, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said.
The incident happened on Sunday, he added.
Qin said that China had repeatedly demanded the Philippines remove a ship which had been grounded on the shoal in 1999, but that Manila had cited technical reasons for being unable to do so.
“This time, the Philippine side has again attempted to start construction on the reef,” he told a daily news briefing. “The moves infringed China’s sovereignty.”