The Philippines has spotted unknown structures installed on a series of reefs in the South China Sea, where "a flotilla" of Chinese fishing vessels, allegedly manned by militias, was earlier tracked by Manila.
The Philippine military said on Thursday that the structures were tracked during maritime patrols conducted earlier this week. The military did not give any details related to the structures, only stressing that their installation runs counter to international law.
"The Laws of the Sea gives the Philippines indisputable and exclusive rights over the area. These constructions and other activities, economic or otherwise, are prejudicial to the peace, good order, and security of our territorial waters. These structures are illegal", Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana pointed out in a statement.
This comes after the Philippine Coast Guard said late last week that they had tracked about 200 vessels, believed to be part of the Chinese maritime "militia", a non-military voluntary force, near the Whitsun Reef.
Manila lodged a diplomatic protest over the issue and demanded these vessels leave the area. Beijing, in turn, denied the Philippines' allegations, claiming that China has no maritime "militia" abroad.
"Due to the maritime situation, some fishing boats have been taking shelter from the wind near Niu'e Jiao, which is quite normal. We hope the relevant sides can view this in a rational light", Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying stated, referring to the Chinese name of the Whitsun Reef.
US, Philippines Alarmed Over Alleged Presence of Chinese Militia Ships Near Whitsun Reef
The White House has, meanwhile, stated that the US and the Philippines voiced concern over the alleged presence of Chinese maritime "militia" vessels near the disputed Whitsun Reef, reaffirming that Washington considers the US-Philippines Mutual Defence Treaty applicable in the South China Sea.
"The [two countries'] National Security Advisers agreed that the United States and the Philippines will continue to coordinate closely in responding to challenges in the South China Sea", the statement said.
The Whitsun Reef is part of the Spratly archipelago, claimed by Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam.
The US is also actively engaged in the South China Sea-related dispute even though Washington has no claims to the area. The US Navy has repeatedly sent its ships to the South China Sea to fulfill "freedom of navigation" missions. These spark harsh criticism from Beijing, who describes such acts as "provocations".