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Chinese forces harass Filipino ships near Pag-asa, says Alejano

In this Monday, May 11, 2015, file photo, the alleged on-going reclamation of Subi Reef by China is seen from Pag-asa Island in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, western Palawan Province, Philippines. China’s campaign of island building in the South China Sea might soon quadruple the number of airstrips available to the People’s Liberation Army in the highly contested and strategically vital region. That could be bad news for other regional contenders, especially the U.S., the Philippines and Vietnam. Ritchie B. Tongo/Pool Photo via AP, File

MANILA, Philippines — Magdalo Partylist Rep. Gary Alejano expressed concerns over the rising tensions in Manila-claimed Pag-asa Island and its three sandbars.

Alejano claimed that Chinese forces are employing new tactics in the disputed West Philippine Sea.

"They are harassing our patrolling vessels by continuously sounding their sirens to signify their opposition to our vessels visiting or patrolling the sandbars," Alejano said in a statement.

The lawmaker said that he has received information that three vessels of Chinese maritime militia and a ship of the People's Liberation Army Navy have been spotted one to five nautical miles from the three sandbars of Pag-asa Island.

The Department of Foreign Affairs is yet to validate the claims of Alejano.

"We need to confirm this with our defense colleagues," DFA spokesperson Rob Bolivar said.

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One of China's artificial islands, Subi Reef, is near the sandbars. Beijing has installed military facilities in Subi Reef, which used to be a low-tide elevation.

"The sandbars lie within 12 nautical miles of both Subi Reef and Pag-asa Island. However, the difference is that Subi Reef was once a low-tide elevation and was only later on reclaimed by China," Alejano said.

As a low-tide elevation, Subi Reef cannot generate territorial waters nor a 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone. This was part of the July 2016 ruling of the United Nations-back tribunal based in The Hague.

Pag-asa Island, on the other hand, is a high-tide elevation feature and is the second largest island in the Spratly Group. The island is part of Palawan island in the disputed West Philippine Sea.

According to reports, China is shifting away from its nine-dash line claim in the South China Sea for a new sovereignty claim in the disputed waters.

The Washington Free Beacon reported that the Chinese Foreign Ministry has laid its "four sha" claim in a closed-door meeting with US State Department officials. China's new sovereignty claim covers maritime entitlements from four island groups in the disputed waters—the Pratas Islands, Paracel Islands, Spratly Islands and the Macclesfield Bank area.

RELATED: Shifting tactics: China advances 'four sha' claim in South China Sea

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