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China island building 'threat to all Asean': Philippines

[MANILA] China's reclamation of land in disputed South China Sea waters is a "threat" to all nations in Southeast Asia, the Philippines' foreign minister said Thursday.

Albert del Rosario repeated a warning last year that Beijing was reclaiming land around isolated reefs in the South China Sea to turn them into islands which could hold fortified positions or even airstrips.

The Philippine foreign secretary said the Chinese actions in the Spratly islands would impact freedom to navigate the strategic mineral-rich waters, through which large volumes of the world's trade pass.

"I will re-emphasise this and invite the concern of the Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean) states because it is a threat to all of us," Mr del Rosario told reporters.

Manila accused Beijing last year of reclamation work in the Cuarteron, Johnson, Johnson South and Gaven reefs in the Spratly group, which the Chinese call Nansha.

China claims almost all of the South China Sea, a claim which conflicts with those of Asean members Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam as well as non-member Taiwan.

Beijing has previously rejected Philippine protests that the land reclamation was being conducted in its territory, with a People's Liberation Army Major General Luo Yuan defending it as "justifiable" in state media.

While the Philippines and Vietnam have been vocal in accusing China of aggressive actions, other Asean members have been reluctant to criticise the regional giant.

Mr Del Rosario said he would raise the issue at an upcoming meeting of Asean foreign ministers, pushing for countries involved in the dispute to adhere to a code of conduct to not increase tensions in the maritime region.

He said the Philippines hoped to receive a positive decision by early next year to the formal plea it filed to the United Nations last March challenging China's claims.

A US official attending a strategic dialogue with the Philippines on Wednesday also expressed concern over China's behaviour in the South China Sea.

"We believe bigger nations can't bully the small," assistant secretary of state Daniel Russel told reporters after the two-day dialogue.