MANILA—The Philippine government protested China’s planned move to place virtually the entire South China Sea under the jurisdiction of a newly created city in the latest conflict between the Asian neighbors in the disputed region, officials said Thursday.
Philippine diplomats in Manila summoned Chinese Ambassador Ma Keqing on Wednesday and handed her a note protesting China’s establishment of Sansha city, which would administer all disputed territories across the vast South China Sea under Beijing’s southernmost Hainan province. Vietnam has also protested China’s action.
Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez said China’s declaration violated Philippine sovereignty in South China Sea territories clearly belonging to Manila, including several islands, reefs and sandbars in the disputed Spratly Islands, the Scarborough Shoal and the continental shelf and waters off the country’s western coast.
China’s cabinet approved the establishment of Sansha last month to administer three major island groups in the South China Sea and surrounding waters, with the government seat to be based in the Paracel Islands, which Chinese officials call Xisha.
Mr. Hernandez said Beijing’s decision contradicted a 2002 nonaggression accord signed by China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to prevent the territorial disputes from turning violent. There are fears that the disputes could spark Asia’s next major armed conflict.
Chinese officials have said they plan to establish a military presence in Sansha, along with an aquaculture research center.
The territorial disputes are expected to take center stage at Asia’s largest annual security meeting in Cambodia next week.
Although China has opposed efforts to bring the conflicts to an international arena, top Philippine and Vietnamese diplomats are expected to raise their opposition to China’s recent actions in the South China Sea at the Asean Regional Forum, which is attended by foreign ministers from 27 nations, including the U.S. and China.
A key topic will be a proposal to turn the 2002 accord between China and Asean into a legally binding code to tame aggression by claimant countries and prevent violence from erupting in the South China Sea, Philippine officials said.