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South China Sea: Philippines to stop announcing resupply missions amid push for Beijing talks

The Philippines has decided not to announce resupply missions to a disputed South China Sea shoal in advance as Manila pushes for talks with Beijing to defuse tensions following a recent stand-off in the waterway.

Defence Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jnr said the move should not be construed as “seeking permission from anyone in performing our sworn duties in the West Philippine Sea”.

The West Philippine Sea is the term the Philippines uses to describe the eastern parts of the South China Sea that are within its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and territorial waters.

Teodoro said the voyages carrying supplies for Filipino troops stationed aboard a rickety warship that serves as a military outpost in the Second Thomas Shoal would continue without revealing their schedules, rejecting the National Maritime Council’s suggestion that publicising the trips could help avoid clashes with China’s coastguard.

Last Monday, the Philippines accused the Chinese coastguard of blocking its forces trying to resupply marines posted on the BRP Sierra Madre by brandishing knives and an axe and damaging their boats.

Beijing said its sailors behaved in a “professional and restrained” way and blamed Manila for the skirmish, which Teodoro called an “aggressive and illegal use of force”.

The vessel, deliberately grounded atop the shoal in 1999 to assert the Southeast Asian nation’s territorial claims, has emerged as a major flashpoint between the two sides in recent months.

The Asian Century Philippines Strategic Studies Institute, a think tank, recently claimed the United States was reinforcing the crumbling ship to turn it into a permanent structure to host American military assets.

China has repeatedly asked the Philippines to tow away the vessel and