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Philippine 'occupation' of Pag-asa Island violates China sovereignty, says foreign ministry

China on Monday claimed sovereignty over Pag-asa Island and defended its presence near it, after a Philippine Navy vessel conducting a resupply mission warned off a Chinese navy ship shadowing it late last week.

"The Philippine side's illegal occupation of Zhongye Island has seriously violated China's sovereignty," Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning told a regular press conference on Monday, using the Chinese name for Pag-asa Island. "It is reasonable and lawful for Chinese warships to patrol the waters near Zhongye Island."

Last Friday a Chinese People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) vessel came as close as 350 meters as it tried to cross in front of the BRP Benguet near Pag-asa island, the Philippines' biggest and most strategically important outpost in the South China Sea, according to AFP chief General Romeo Brawner Jr.

"These dangerous and offensive maneuvers by China's PLAN not only risk collision but also directly endanger the lives of maritime personnel from both sides," Brawner said in a statement on Sunday.

It was the latest in a series of attempts by China to monitor and block resupply missions to personnel in Philippines-occupied features in the West Philippine Sea.

China claims sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea, through which more than $3 trillion of trade passes each year.

Ties between Manila and Beijing have soured since President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. pursued closer ties with Washington, in sharp contrast to the pro-China stance of his predecessor Rodrigo Duterte, who sought to court billions of dollars of investment from Beijing.

Marcos, however, has maintained pursuing economic relations with China is important, and his government is sending a representative to China's third Belt and Road Forum this week. — Reuters