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Philippines Warns China About Vessels in Disputed Seas

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08/18/2014 | 10:26pm EDT

MANILA--The Philippines on Monday warned China that what it described as the frequent presence of Chinese ships in a disputed area of the South China Sea could potentially spark renewed tensions between the neighbors.

Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman Charles Jose said that Chinese vessels are regularly seen in an area called the Reed Bank, which is potentially rich in oil and natural gas.

Chinese vessels' presence in the area is "part of a pattern of illegitimate sovereignty patrols in the Philippine EEZ pursuant to China's unilateral effort to change the status of the South China Sea," said Mr. Jose, referring to the 200 nautical-mile exclusive economic zone set under a United Nations' convention. A diplomatic protest will soon be lodged with the Chinese Embassy in Manila, Mr. Jose said.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

In January, the Philippines asked the Permanent Court of Arbitration, which handles international disputes in The Hague, to expedite an arbitration case it filed against China to claims over which country owns various disputed territories in the South China Sea.

In a TV5 television interview over the weekend, President Benigno Aquino III said two Chinese research ships had been spotted by the country's navy at the Reed Bank, which could lead to "increased tension."

In 2010, the Philippines granted London-listed Forum Energy PLC a license to explore within the Reed Bank for oil and natural gas. The following year, Chinese vessels chased from the area a survey ship hired by Forum Energy, which is majority owned by Philippines-listed Philex Petroleum Corp. The company hasn't been able to return since. The Philippines granted the company an extension of the license for rights to drill a well there until 2016.

Write to Cris Larano at cris.larano@wsj.com

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