MANILA, Philippines - China said it has "every reason" to drive away two Philippine ships from the disputed Ayungin Shoal and criticized the United States for its comments on the maritime incident.
Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Qin Gang again belied claims of the Philippines that the expelled ships were carrying food and supplies for troops on the BRP Sierra Madre that ran aground 15 years ago in the contested reef.
Qin reiterated the allegation that the ships were actually transporting construction materials to the Ayungin Shoal "with the aim of building facilities and maintaining a presence" in the disputed area.
"The two Philippine ships were loaded with concrete and rebar rather than food. Is concrete and rebar edible?" Qin said Thursday.
Qin also blamed the Philippines for failing to haul away the grounded ship. He claimed that the behaviior of the island nation has "infringed" upon China's rights and interests and violated the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea.
"It is an out-and-out provocation," he said.
At the same time, Qin also fired back at US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki for commenting on the Ayungin incident.
"Comments made by the US in disregard of facts are inconsistent with its non-party capacity. It goes against US commitment of not taking sides on issues of dispute," Qin said.
He added that the comments of Psaki have a negative effect on the maintenance of peace and stability of Southeast Asia and "does no good to the US itself."
Psaki said the US was troubled by China's actions. She claimed that since 1999, the Philippines has maintained a presence at the disputed shoal, which lies about 120 miles from the Palawan and about 700 miles (more than 1,000 kilometers) from southern China.
"This is a provocative move that raises tensions. Pending resolution of competing claims in the South China Sea, there should be no interference with the efforts of claimants to maintain the status quo," Psaki said in a statement.
Through its nine-dash line claim, China wants to own virtually the entire South China Sea, resource-rich waters where Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims to islands, islets and reefs.
The Philippines, which has sought international arbitration, protested last January against Chinese coast guard vessels' water cannon attack on Filipino fisherman near another disputed shoal. - Louis Bacani with AP