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South China Sea: Philippines sends ships to disputed atoll where Beijing building ‘artificial island’

The Philippines said on Saturday it had deployed ships to a disputed area in the South China Sea, where it accused Beijing of building “an artificial island” in an escalating maritime row.

The coastguard sent a ship “to monitor the supposed illegal activities of China, creating ‘an artificial island’”, the office of President Ferdinand Marcos Jnr said in a statement, adding two other vessels were in rotational deployment in the area.

Philippine Coast Guard spokesman Commodore Jay Tarriela told a forum there had been “small-scale reclamation” of the Sabina Shoal, which Manila calls Escoda, and that China was “the most probable actor”.

The Chinese embassy in Manila did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the Philippine assertions, which could deepen the bilateral rift.

The Philippine national security adviser called on Friday for expelling Chinese diplomats over an alleged leak of a phone conversation with a Filipino admiral about the maritime dispute.

Beijing and Manila have been embroiled for a year in heated stand-offs over their competing claims in the South China Sea, where US$3 trillion worth of trade passes annually.

China claims almost all of the vital waterway, including parts claimed by the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam. The Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled in 2016 that Beijing’s claims had no basis under international law.

China has carried out extensive land reclamation on some islands in the South China Sea, building air force and other military facilities, causing concern in Washington and around the region.

A Philippine vessel had been anchored at the Sabina Shoal to “catch and document the dumping of crushed corals over the sandbars”, Tarriela said, citing the “alarming”