The Philippines has protested China’s “continuing illegal presence and activities” near islands it holds in the South China Sea.
In a statement on Saturday, the Philippines’ Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it had lodged a diplomatic protest “against the incessant deployment, prolonged presence, and illegal activities of Chinese maritime assets and fishing vessels” in the vicinity of Thitu or the Pag-asa Island.
The latest petition was at least the 84th diplomatic protest the Philippines has filed against China since President Rodrigo Duterte took office in 2016.
It comes amid escalating tension over the presence of hundreds of Chinese boats in the Philippines’ 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Manila says it believes the vessels were manned by militia, while Beijing has said they were fishing boats sheltering from bad weather.
Thitu or Pag-asa is located some 451 kilometers (280 miles) off the Philippine coast. The island is the biggest of the eight reefs, shoals, and islands Manila controls in the Spratly archipelago.
Just 25 kilometers (15 miles) away, on the Subi reef, China has built a mini-city with runways, hangars and surface-to-air missiles.
An international tribunal in 2016 invalidated China’s expansive claims in the South China Sea, but Beijing has ignored the decision.
Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have competing claims to various islands and features in the area.