VIENTIANE — The Department of National Defense released pictures on Wednesday showing what it said were Chinese boats near the disputed Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea, just hours before leaders of Southeast Asian nations were due to meet China’s premier in Laos.
There was no explanation for the timing of the release, but it came two days after Manila expressed “grave concern” about the increasing number of Chinese vessels around Scarborough and demanded an explanation from Beijing’s ambassador.
A Philippine official said the release of the photographs and a map was ordered by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, who is at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in Vientiane.
China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei — the last four ASEAN members — claim parts or all of the resource-rich South China Sea, making it a hotspot of regional tension.
The 10 images and map were sent by email to journalists, many of whom are in Vientiane for the ASEAN summit. The ASEAN leaders were due to meet Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on Wednesday, although it was unclear if the row over the South China Sea would be openly addressed.