China slams Philippines over disputed islands

BEIJING - China on Friday hit out at the Philippines' attempt to seek an international verdict on a territorial dispute over islands in the South China Sea, repeating that it would never give up its claims.

Manila is seeking a United Nations ruling on the validity of Chinese claims to the resource-rich sea, with a possible unfavourable verdict for China seen as a test of its willingness to yield over territorial disputes.

China's Foreign Ministry said in a statement posted on its website that the Philippines was attempting to "cover in a cloak of 'legality' its illegal occupation of China's islands and reefs".

It called on the Philippines to withdraw all personnel and facilities from the islands that it said Manila was occupying. "The position outlined by China will not change," it added.

The statement came a day after leaders of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) called for urgent talks with China to seek a resolution to the increasingly tense territorial disputes.

ASEAN members the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei also claim parts of the sea, as does Taiwan. The competing claims have for decades made the area one of Asia's potential powder kegs.

The Philippines accused China of occupying a shoal close to its main island last year, and has sought to unite with other ASEAN countries to dispute China's claims.

China has consistently rejected multilateral negotiations over the disputes, stating that discussions should occur through direct talks between countries.

China and other countries with claims in the South China Sea have boosted naval spending in recent years, while others including the Philippines have sought closer diplomatic and military ties with the United States.

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