MANILA – The Philippines on Monday accused China of raising tensions anew in the West Philippine Sea for conducting a test flight over a Manila-claimed reef, saying it will be protesting Beijing’s action.
“We will file it in due course. Fiery Cross or Kagitingan Reef is part of our Kalayaan Island Group,” Foreign Affairs spokesman Charles Jose told reporters.
China defended its move, saying the flight test was conducted to ensure that the reef it now occupies and transformed into an artificial island with a runway, adheres to safety aviation standards.
China has asserted indisputable claim over nearly the entire South China Sea and has built man-made islands on seven reefs, including Fiery Cross, in a move that has triggered concerns among several nations, such as the Philippines, Vietnam, Unites States and Japan.
“The test flight of China in Kagitingan has definitely raised tensions in the region,” Jose said. “That’s the fear, that China will be able to take control of the South China Sea, and it will affect the freedom of navigation and freedom of overflight plus unimpeded flow of commerce.”
Vietnam, which also claims the reef, earlier lodged a protest against China’s test flight. Hanoi’s protest was rejected by Beijing, insisting that its actions are within its sovereign right.
South China Sea is home to vast oil and mineral deposits and to a cluster of contested islands, reefs and atolls further south, called the Spratlys.
The Philippines has adopted the name West Philippine Sea for parts of the waters that fall under its exclusive economic zone as allowed by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have overlapping claims to the waters.
All claimants, except for Brunei, have stationed military troops in their territories in the vast sea, said to be sitting atop huge oil and gas deposits.