BEIJING (Reuters) - China rebuked the Philippines on Tuesday for taking journalists to a disputed island in the South China Sea, dismissing its occupation as “futile and illegal” in the latest war of words between the two sides.
China claims 90 percent of the South China Sea, which is believed to be rich in oil and gas. Its claims overlap with those of Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan.
The Philippines took foreign and local journalists this week to Thitu Island, the biggest island occupied by Manila in the region.
China’s Foreign Ministry said the Philippines was endangering international law.
“China has made clear on many occasions that it opposes the Philippines’ futile and illegal occupation,” said ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying. “The reality of the situation has again proven the Philippines to be a rule-violator and a troublemaker.”
China has so far not permitted journalists to visit the islands it controls in the South China Sea, through which $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year.
China last month put forward a detailed defense of its reclamation in the Spratlys, saying the new islands would provide civilian services including weather forecasting and search and rescue facilities that would benefit other countries.
China’s reclamation of about seven reefs in the Spratlys has rendered islands controlled by the Philippines vulnerable, Philippine military officials and security experts said on Tuesday.
The Philippine military’s top priority was to build a naval base on the country’s western coastline, opposite the Spratlys, although the plans have been delayed by funding bottlenecks, the Philippine armed forces chief told Reuters.
Reporting By Megha Rajagopalan; Editing by Nick Macfie