Manila accuses China of sea violation, Beijing says wants peace

By Manuel Mogato and Ben Blanchard

MANILA/BEIJING (Reuters) - The Philippines accused China on Tuesday of violating an informal code of conduct in the South China Sea by planning new structures on a disputed shoal, as China's premier told Southeast Asian leaders Beijing was serious about peace.

Friction over the South China Sea, one of the world's most important waterways, has surged as China uses its growing naval might to assert its vast claims over the oil- and gas-rich sea more forcefully, raising fears of a military clash.

Four of the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), including Vietnam and the Philippines, have overlapping claims with China.

China and the Philippines accuse each other of violating the Declaration of Conduct (DoC), a non-binding confidence-building agreement on maritime conduct signed by China and ASEAN in 2002.

Philippines Defence Secretary Voltaire Gazmin told a congressional budget hearing in Manila that China had violated the DoC by getting ready to build new structures on the disputed Scarborough Shoal.

"We have ... sighted concrete blocks inside the shoal which are a prelude to construction," Gazmin said, displaying air surveillance photos of the rocks.

He said the photos were taken on Saturday, describing them as a worrying pattern of construction that would be similar to the building of a garrison on Mischief Reef in the late 1990s.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said he had "no information" about Gazmin's accusations.

Regional security scholar Ian Storey said that if Gazmin was correct, it would mark the biggest violation yet of the 2002 declaration.

"If China starts building at Scarborough, then it is an occupation and, I believe, the most egregious violation yet of the 2002 declaration," said Storey, who is based at Singapore's Institute of South East Asian Studies.

"It is a very significant development indeed and one that will certainly add to tensions."

Speaking at a China-ASEAN trade fair in the southern Chinese city of Nanning, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said his country was serious about wanting a peaceful resolution to the South China Sea disputes, though signalled it was in no rush to sign a long-mooted accord to replace the DoC.

After years of resisting efforts by ASEAN to start talks on an agreement on maritime rules governing behaviour in the region, the so-called Code of Conduct, China has said it would host talks between senior officials this month.

Li said China had always advocated talks on the South China Sea on the basis of "respecting historical reality and international law".

"The Chinese government is willing and ready to assume a policy of seeking an appropriate resolution through friendly consultations," Li told the audience, which included Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

China would "proceed systematically and soundly push forward talks on the Code of Conduct for the South China Sea", Li said without elaborating in comments aired live on state television.

He also repeated that talks on the dispute should only be carried out between the parties directly concerned, Beijing's standard line which rejects the involvement of outside parties such as the United States or multilateral forums.

Washington has not taken sides, but Secretary of State John Kerry reiterated in Brunei in July the U.S. strategic interest in freedom of navigation through the busy sea and its desire to see a Code of Conduct signed quickly.

Critics say China is intent on cementing its claims over the sea through its superior and growing naval might, and has little interest in rushing to agree to the Code of Conduct. (Additional reporting by Sui-Lee Wee in BEIJING and Greg Torode in Hong Kong; Editing by Nick Macfie)

Matches

MORE TOP STORIES TODAY

Bangalore's arsenal blazes to victory

Bangalore's arsenal blazes to victory

Yuvraj Singh was back to his best in his first match for Royal Challengers Bangalore. More »

Time for Chennai to enter familiar cocoon

Time for Chennai to enter familiar cocoon

Chennai have been able to purchase batting replacements for the loss of Michael Hussey and spin reinforcements in the form of Samuel Badree. They appear… More »

Evenly matched Rajasthan and Hyderabad face-off

Evenly matched Rajasthan and Hyderabad face-off

A quality that defines Rajasthan and Hyderabad is consistency. Rajasthan was one among two teams to enjoy complete dominance at home last season. Hyderabad… More »

BCCI to meet before next court hearing

BCCI to meet before next court hearing

The BCCI will hold an emergent working committee meeting on April 20 to discuss the future course of action with regard to the Supreme Court hearing concerning… More »

Kallis, Narine star in Knight Riders’ crushing win

Kallis, Narine star in Knight Riders’ crushing win

An all-round display saw Knight Riders thump Mumbai Indians by 41 runs in the IPL-7 opener. More »

Gavaskar wants a clean IPL

Gavaskar wants a clean IPL

"Integrity is non-negotiable..." says the BCCI's interim chief ahead of Season 7 of the tainted league. More »

'Yak' Kallis still on top of his game

'Yak' Kallis still on top of his game

The 38-year-old South African veteran turned it on for Kolkata Knight RIders in the opening match of IPL-7. More »

Srinivasan named in fixing report: SC

Srinivasan named in fixing report: SC

The court emphasised that the tainted administrator can no longer work for the BCCI. More »

Yuvraj happy to play for RCB: Kohli

Yuvraj happy to play for RCB: Kohli

New-look RCB will play their first game of IPL-7 on Thursday. More »

Shane Watson issues moral warning

Shane Watson issues moral warning

'Everyone knows what is right and what is wrong and if you do the wrong thing it will be found out' More »

Why I'm not looking forward to the IPL

Why I'm not looking forward to the IPL

Welcome to another season of a league that many watch but few trust. More »

IPL: News Line

IPL: News Line

A round-up of all the news from this season of the IPL. More »

Johnson may quit T20s for Tests

Johnson may quit T20s for Tests

Australia's Mitchell Johnson may quit limited-overs cricket to prolong his test career with an eye on the 2015 Ashes series in England, the fast bowler… More »

Nepal players call off boycott

Nepal players call off boycott

Thaw in relations after formation of an advisory committee that would work in tandem with the Cricket Association of Nepal. More »

There's a lot going on: Fleming

There's a lot going on: Fleming

He experienced anxious moments in the lead-up to the tournament as the courts decided on whether to suspend the franchise, he said, but stressed that the… More »

Latif couldn’t work with tainted players

Latif couldn’t work with tainted players

Former Pakistan cricket captain Rashid Latif said Tuesday he turned down the job of national chief selector because he could not work with ex-players tainted… More »

We are not over-confident: Bailey

We are not over-confident: Bailey

Indian Premier League — George Bailey-led Kings XI Punjab will face Chennai Super Kings on Friday. More »

Big runs expected, with bat and ball

Big runs expected, with bat and ball

Royal Challengers Bangalore: Their main concern, once again, is the fast bowling More »

Taxing issue — BCCI hits roadblock

Taxing issue — BCCI hits roadblock

MoU between BCCI & its units to avoid double taxation delayed after a few decline to share details. More »

Black Caps pick rookie duo for West Indies

Black Caps pick rookie duo for West Indies

New Zealand selectors included two new caps in a 15-man Test squad named Tuesday to tour the West Indies, with injury-hit spinner Dan Vettori's future… More »

The stage is set for IPL-7 to start

The stage is set for IPL-7 to start

The Preview — Defending champions Mumbai Indians take on Kolkata Knight Riders More »

Srinivasan appeals to court to allow BCCI comeback

Srinivasan appeals to court to allow BCCI comeback

He was aggrieved by the allegations against him during the hearing. More »

India: cricket's Brazil

India: cricket's Brazil

They are tough to beat with a big talent base exposed to good facilities. (CYCSPL) More »

Delhi Daredevils say no to gifts

Delhi Daredevils say no to gifts

Franchises are doing their bit to refurbish the image of the tainted league. More »