China today accused the Philippines of spreading “rumours” as it refuted allegations by Manila that it has secretly begun work to build an artificial island at a crucial shoal in the disputed South China Sea after an international tribunal struck down Beijing’s claims.

The Philippines released images today claiming to show Chinese ships preparing to build an artificial island on Scarborough Shoal, hours before leaders of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) met Chinese Premier Li Keqiang in Laos.

“The situation concerning Huangyan Dao (ScarboroughShoal) is unchanged,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying told a media briefing here, reacting to allegations by the Philippines.

“No new action has been taken by China. We should be on high alert on why those people keep hyping issue and spreading rumours about it,” she said.

The Philippines said the images showed Chinese ships at the shoal last weekend which were capable of dredging sand and other activities required to build an artificial island.

“We have reason to believe that their presence is a precursor to building activities on the shoal,” the Philippines defence department spokesman Arsenio Andolong said.

“We are continuing our surveillance and monitoring of their presence and activities, which are disturbing,” he said.

The tribunal in its verdict on July 12 this year said the Philippines has exclusive sovereign rights over the area and struck down China’s claims over almost of all of the South China Sea as invalid.

China rejected the verdict, questioning the legality of the tribunal even as the US said it is a valid judgement to be
implemented by all parties concerned.

Besides the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan oppose China’s claims and have counter-claims.

The images issued by the Philippines about China’s new construction come immediately after the G20 and ahead of the crucial ASEAN meet in which Li, besides Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Barack Obama are taking part.

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, too, is attending the meeting as his country is part of the ASEAN.

A reclaimed island at Scarborough Shoal could provide China a military base close to the Philippines’ main island of Luzon which is used regularly by American forces as it is about 230 kms away.

–  PTI