Philippines says China coast guard did not drive away navy gunboat

MANILA/BEIJING (Reuters) -The Philippines’ military chief on Tuesday dismissed as “propaganda” a statement by China’s coast guard that said it had driven away a Filipino navy gunboat from around a disputed shoal in the South China Sea.

“China’s coast guard was there and made a challenge. But the navy ship proceeded on its course, and was not driven away. It was doing its mission: maritime patrol,” Armed Forces of the Philippines chief Romeo Brawner told reporters.

“Our stand remains that it is Chinese propaganda.”

China’s coast guard said earlier it had taken “necessary measures” to drive away the gunboat out of the Scarborough Shoal after it ignored repeated warnings. Coast guard spokesman Gan Yu said the action was also a serious violation of international law.

The incident comes a day after China warned the Philippines against further “provocations” at an atoll in the South China Sea, saying such acts had violated Chinese territorial sovereignty, contravened international law and disrupted regional peace and stability.

The Scarborough Shoal is one of Asia’s most contested maritime features and a flashpoint for flare-ups over sovereignty and fishing rights.

The area lies within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, but China claims it has “indisputable sovereignty” over what it calls Huangyan Island, and its adjacent waters.

Beijing has controlled the shoal for over a decade since a standoff with the Philippines in 2012.

Last month, the Philippine coastguard said it had cut a 300 metre (980 feet) floating barrier installed by China that blocked access to the shoal.

Ties between the Philippines and China have soured since Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos took office last year. Marcos has deepened ties with Washington, allowing access to additional bases including military facilities in the northern regions near Taiwan.

(Reporting by Mikhail Flores, Liz Lee and Beijing newsroom; Editing by Christian Schmollinger and Miral Fahmy)