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China slams PH’s definition of South China Sea ‘reef’

BEIJING (Reuters) – As Asia’s biggest security summit is set to convene, China on Friday accused the Philippines of seeking to negate its sovereignty in the South China Sea by describing Taiping Island as a reef and not an island in Manila’s territorial court case.

Tensions in the South China Sea are set to dominate the Shangri-La Dialogue (SLD) starting Friday, exposing a deepening rivalry between the United States and China ahead of a landmark legal ruling over the disputed area in the Hague. Beijing refuses to recognize the case lodged by the Philippines with the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague over territorial claims in the South China Sea and says such disputes should be resolved through bilateral talks.

Manila is challenging the legality of China’s claim there, in part by arguing that no land mass in the Spratly archipelago, including Itu Aba, known as Taiping Island in Chinese, can legally be considered a life-sustaining island. That would mean it cannot hold rights to a 200 nautical mile (370 km) exclusive economic zone.

“The Philippines’ attempt to define Taiping Island as a ‘reef’ exposes that the goal of its arbitration case is to try to negate China’s sovereignty and related rights over the Spratly Islands,” China’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said. “This is a violation of international law and completely unacceptable,” Hua said in a statement posted to the ministry’s website.

Chinese fishermen had historically lived on Itu Aba year-round, and fished, dug wells, cultivated plants and constructed buildings, all evidence that it was an island capable of sustaining human life and economic activity, Hua said.