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Palace disagrees with US on China using COVID-19 pandemic to push territorial ambitions

Malacañang on Tuesday disagreed with the view of the United States that China is taking advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic to advance its territorial ambitions in the South China Sea.

“We do not agree with that conclusion. Although the current policy is we will defend all our national territory and our sovereign rights,” presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said in a televised briefing.

Roque’s reaction came nearly a week after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told foreign ministers in Southeast Asia that China had pushed forward with its South China Sea plans despite the pandemic.

Pompeo cited the unilateral establishment of two districts that cover Philippine territories in the disputed sea, sinking of a Vietnamese fishing boat allegedly by a Chinese coast guard ship and the establishment of two research stations on Fiery Cross and Subi reefs.

The US official also accused China of deploying military ships to discourage other claimant countries from proceeding with offshore gas and oil projects.

The Philippines had already filed diplomatic protests over China's unilateral establishment of two districts and alleged harassment of a Philippine Navy ship.

China claims a huge swathe of the South China Sea as part of its territory, but the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague invalidated this claim in July 2016 following a case filed by the Philippines in 2013.

Beijing does not recognize the ruling which was temporarily set aside by President Rodrigo Duterte in pursuit of warmer trade and economic relations with the Asian powerhouse.

Aside from the Philippines and China, the other claimants include Vietnam, Taiwan, Brunei and Malaysia. -NB, GMA News