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MANILA, April 4 - The Philippines' defence chiefsaid on Sunday China was looking to occupy more areas in theSouth China Sea, citing the continued presence of Chinesevessels that Manila believes are manned by militias in disputedparts of the strategic waterway.
"The continued presence of Chinese maritime militias in thearea reveals their intent to further occupy (areas) in the WestPhilippine Sea," Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said in astatement, using the local name for the South China Sea.
It was the second hostile statement by Lorenzana in two daysas he repeated calls by the Philippines for the Chinese boats toleave Whitsun Reef, which Manila calls the Julian Felipe Reef,located within its 200-mile exclusive economic zone.
Chinese diplomats have said the boats anchored near the reef- numbering more than 200 based on initial intelligence gatheredby Philippine patrols - were sheltering from rough seas and thatno militia were aboard.
On Saturday, Lorenzana said there were still 44 Chinesevessels at Whitsun Reef despite improved weather conditions.
"I am no fool. The weather has been good so far, so theyhave no reason to stay there," he said.
The Chinese Embassy in Manila responded to Lorenzana'scomments, saying it was "completely normal" for Chinese vesselsto fish in the area and take shelter near the reef during roughsea conditions. It added, "Nobody has the right to make wantonremarks on such activities."
An international tribunal invalidated China's claim to 90%of the South China Sea in 2016, but Beijing does not recognisethe ruling and has built artificial islands in the disputedwaters equipped with radar, missiles batteries and hangars forfighter jets. REUTERS