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China says trip by Congressmen to Spratlys aims to ‘sabotage’ ties

Philippine legislator Walden Bello speaks at a press conference in Manila on July 18, 2011, to announce plans by lawmakers to make a special visit to the Spratly islands in order to assert the country's claim to the outcroppings amid rising tensions with China over the area. Five lawmakers in total, most of them allies of Philippine President Benigno Aquino, said they would make a flight to the remote archipelago in the South China Sea on July 20 to show Filipinos were willing to stand up to China. JAY DIRECTO

MANILA, July 19 (Mabuhay) – China protested a planned trip by five Filipino lawmakers to a Philippine-occupied island in the South China Sea’s disputed Spratlys, saying Tuesday it would do nothing but undermine regional stability and “sabotage” bilateral ties.

Chinese Embassy spokesman Ethan Sun said China would relay its “great concern” to the Philippine government over the plan by five House of Representatives members led by Rep. Walden Bello to fly Wednesday to what Manila calls Pag-asa Island, which has been occupied by Filipino troops and a small civilian community.

Pag-asa lies in the South China Sea about 300 miles (480 kilometres) west of the western Philippine province of Palawan.

Bello said Monday that the trip, which his Akbayan Party calls a “sovereignty mission,” aims at peacefully asserting the Philippines’ claim to Pag-asa and surrounding territory. He said it was not a military operation and should not raise concern among rival countries.

Sun said the trip goes against the spirit of a 2002 nonbinding accord between China and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which calls on claimants to settle their disputes peacefully and avoid hostile acts to prevent conflicts.

The trip “serves no purpose but to undermine peace and stability in the region and sabotage China-Philippine relationship,” Sun said in a statement, adding that China would relay its concern to Manila.

Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam also have territorial feuds in the Spratlys, which are believed to be rich in oil and natural gas and straddle some of the world’s busiest sea lanes.(MNS) ■

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