“Philippines has asked China to explain the presence”

The Philippines has asked China to explain the presence of a larger-than-usual number of ships near the Scarborough Shoal, raising the prospect of fresh tension in the South China Sea. With the Group of 20 leaders gathered in the southern Chinese city of Hangzhou, a Philippine Air Force overflight reportedly spotted at least eight ships near the disputed shoal, including four Chinese coast guard vessels, two barges and two boats that could be troop carriers, according to the Department of National Defense. Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Sunday expressed “grave concern” about the number and nature of the vessels, saying the presence of barge-like ships could signal Chinese plans to dredge — and potentially build — in the area. In a regular press briefing on Monday, Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman for China’s Foreign Ministry, downplayed the idea of a change in policy or posture. “The situation has not changed,” she said. Yet the timing and nature of the Filipino reports make the news tough to ignore.”

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