Philippines Says it Removed Disputed South China Sea Markers

Posted June 15th, 2011 at 3:55 am (UTC-5)
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Military officials in the Philippines say their navy has removed a number of marker posts from shoals and reefs in the South China Sea that are mutually claimed by the Philippines and China.

Officials said Wednesday the posts were removed in May, shortly before the government protested that China had offloaded building materials and erected the markers in areas claimed by the Philippines as its exclusive economic zone. China replied that it was acting lawfully in areas under its administration.

China is embroiled in a similar dispute with Vietnam after Chinese vessels twice interfered with oil survey ships operating off Vietnam's coast.

The Philippines and Vietnam have both sought U.S. backing in the disputes, drawing a sharp rebuke from China.

Speaking Tuesday at an event attended by President Benigno Aquino, U.S. Ambassador Harry Thomas assured the Philippines of U.S. support “in all subjects” including the South China Sea and the Spratly Islands.

The remarks are likely to further anger China, which said Tuesday it is “firmly opposed” to foreign involvement in the regional disputes. it also warned other Asian nations to refrain from “irresponsible” comments on their competing maritime claims.

The comments appeared in the Liberation Army Daily, the newspaper of the Chinese military. They followed the introduction of a congressional resolution by two U.S. senators that accuses Beijing of using force in the disputes and calls for the U.S. military to “assert and defend freedom of navigation rights” in the South China Sea.

China responded furiously last year after the United States joined several countries at a regional security summit in calling for a multilateral approach to resolving South China Sea disputes. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also declared a U.S. national interest in maintaining free navigation through the waterway.

China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Brunei and Malaysia claim all or part of the Spratly Islands. China, Vietnam and Taiwan also claim the Paracels.

China says its claims date back for centuries.