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China repeats call for Philippines to remove grounded warship

BEIJING/MANILA (Reuters) -China’s foreign ministry on Tuesday repeated its call for the Philippines to tow away a grounded warship – a rusted-out World War Two relic used as a base – from a disputed shoal, after Manila told Beijing it would not abandon the area.

The dispute over the Second Thomas Shoal in South China Sea came after Manila accused China’s coast guard of “excessive and offensive actions” against Philippines vessels.

“China once again urges the Philippine side to immediately remove the warship from Second Thomas Shoal and restore it to its unoccupied state,” China’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

China has communicated to the Philippines on the Second Thomas Shoal issue “many times” through diplomatic channels, but its goodwill and sincerity have been “ignored”, it added.

China is willing to handle maritime issues talks and consultations, the foreign ministry said.

Jonathan Malaya, assistant director general of the Philippines’ National Security Council, repeated comments he made on Monday, saying, “The Philippines will never abandon our post in Ayungin Shoal”.

“We urge China not to escalate matters by water cannons or military-grade lasers, which places Philippines lives at risk, but by sincere negotiations and other diplomatic means,” he added.

Tensions have soared between the two countries over the South China Sea under Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr, with Manila pivoting back to the United States, which supports Manila in its maritime disputes with China.

China’s coast guard said on Monday the country had told Manila not to send ships to the shoal and not to send “construction materials used for large-scale repair and reinforcement” to the grounded warship.

The foreign ministry said the same day it stopped a Philippines vessel headed to the shoal in “accordance with the law”, condemning the Philippines for violating China’s sovereignty and the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea.

Echoing the foreign ministry, the Chinese ambassador to the Philippines said on Tuesday China had no choice but to respond.

“China has been waiting for feedback from the Philippine side and hopes that both sides will start talks as soon as possible so as to jointly maintain peace and tranquillity in the relevant waters,” Ambassador Huang Xilian said.

China claims sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea, which overlaps with the waters of Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei, Taiwan and the Philippines.

(Reporting by Ella Cao and Liz Lee in Beijing, Karen Lema in Manila ; Editing by Jacqueline Wong and Gerry Doyle)