Updated: 03/30/2014 14:36 | By Agence France-Presse

Philippines presses UN case over China sea row

The Philippines was set to push forward Sunday its case in the United Nations challenging Beijing's claim to most of the South China Sea, a day after a dramatic stand-off with the Asian giant's coastguard.

Philippines presses UN case over China sea row

A China Coast Guard ship (top) and a Philippine supply boat engage in a stand off as the Philippine boat attempts to reach the Second Thomas Shoal, a remote South China Sea a reef claimed by both countries, on March 29, 2014 - by Jay Directo

Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario is expected to announce at 2:30 pm (0630 GMT) that Manila has filed a formal plea before the UN arbitration tribunal, officials said, despite Chinese warnings of a fallout in bilateral relations.

"In all of this, the Philippines... will do what is right. China can do what it prefers to do on this matter," President Benigno Aquino's spokeswoman Abigail Valte told reporters on Saturday.

She made the comments in Manila as a Filipino supply vessel was evading Chinese coastguard vessels to deliver supplies to Philippine marines stationed at a remote and disputed South China Sea reef.

The two-hour stand-off in the Spratly archipelago was the latest in a series of escalations in a dispute between the two countries over their competing claims to waters and islands close to Philippine landmass.

China's claims over the strategically important South China Sea, believed to contain vast oil and gas reserves, overlap those of the Philippines as well as Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan.

The Philippine case argues that China's claims cover areas as far as 870 nautical miles (1,611 kilometres) from the nearest Chinese coast, and are thus illegal under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Manila notified the UN and Beijing in January last year that it would initiate arbitral proceedings, infuriating China which has refused to participate and warned that bilateral relations will suffer if the Philippines pursues the appeal.

Saturday's incident took place at Second Thomas Shoal, where a small number of Filipino soldiers are stationed on a Navy vessel that was grounded there in 1999 to assert the Philippines' sovereignty.

China had said its coastguard successfully turned away a similar Filipino attempt on March 9.

- Competing claims -

The Philippine foreign department said its plea to the UN would argue the disputed areas, including the Second Thomas Shoal, are part of the Philippines' continental shelf over which Manila has sole sovereign rights and jurisdiction.

Both China and the Philippines are signatories to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, but Beijing has repeatedly said it has sovereign rights over the entire Spratlys as well as waters and other islets approaching its neighbours.

It has also accused the Philippines of illegally "occupying" Second Thomas Shoal. 

The rocky outcrop is part of the Spratlys, a chain of islets and reefs that sit near key shipping lanes and are surrounded by rich fishing grounds. 

They are around 200 kilometres from the western Philippine island of Palawan and about 1,100 kilometres from the nearest major Chinese land mass.

Philippine military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Ramon Zagala told AFP on Sunday that the Filipino vessel was due to leave the shoal during the day after the Chinese vessels unsuccessfully prevented it from delivering supplies and rotating troops.

Asked if he expected further confrontation, Zagala said he did not know.

"We want them (boat and crew) to safely return," he said.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei stressed the country's position on the South China Sea dispute, as well as a separate territorial row with Japan in the East China Sea, during a press briefing in Beijing on Friday.

"China is unswerving in safeguarding its territorial sovereignty. Meanwhile, we are committed to managing and resolving relevant issues through dialogue and consultation," he said.

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