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China tells Philippines to remove grounded warship in South China Sea

BEIJING/MANILA (Reuters) – China told the Philippines on Monday to remove its grounded warship from the Second Thomas Shoal in the South China Sea after blocking two Manila supply ships with water cannons over the weekend as both sides asserted their claims of the area.

The Philippines accused the Chinese coast guard of blocking and water-cannoning a Philippine military supply ship on what it said was a routine troop rotation and resupply mission on Saturday for the Philippine warship, a rusty World War Two-era American ship that a handful of troops live aboard.

China said it had earlier told Manila not to send ships to the Second Thomas Shoal and not to send “construction materials used for large-scale repair and reinforcement” to the warship after it learned of this recent supply plan, the Chinese coast guard said in a statement on Monday.

China also urged the Philippines to restore the Second Thomas Shoal and said it had allowed transport of daily necessities including food to the grounded ship, according to the Chinese statement, adding that it had used the water cannon to avoid collision from a direct interception.

The Philippines in 1999 intentionally grounded the warship to stake its claim to the Second Thomas Reef, a submerged reef that is part of the Spratly islands in the South China Sea.

China over the weekend said it had “indisputable” sovereignty of the area and urged the Philippines to stop infringing activities in this waters.

Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said on Monday that the country continued to assert its sovereignty and territorial rights despite challenges in the South China Sea.

Marcos said the Philippines had relayed its complaint against China.

No one was injured in the maritime incident, but the Philippine is thinking of next steps to resupply troops.

China claims sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea and the Spratly island, which consists of many islets, reefs banks and shoals and lie in the centre of South China Sea and along major shipping lanes.

The island is claimed by China, Vietnam, Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines.

(Reporting by Albee Zhang in Beijing and Neil Jerome Morales in Manila)

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