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Recent developments surrounding the South China Sea

BEIJING — A look at recent developments in the South China Sea, where China is pitted against smaller neighbors in multiple disputes over islands, coral reefs and lagoons in waters crucial for global commerce and rich in fish and potential oil and gas reserves:

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EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a weekly look at developments in the South China Sea, the location of several territorial conflicts in the region.

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PHILIPPINE FOREIGN SECRETARY PRAISES CHINA

The Philippine foreign secretary heaped praise on China’s ruling Communist Party during a visit to Beijing, underscoring the growing distance between the Philippines and the United States as China’s regional political and economic influence rises.

Teodoro Locsin said Wednesday that China’s authoritarian one-party system has provided opportunities for developing economies to grow and has given them a certain momentum for improvement that Western democracies currently lack.

“Without the new China there will be no prospect whatsoever for the developing world to grow into emerging economies,” Locsin said.

The secretary’s remarks reflected sentiment in the Cabinet of President Rodrigo Duterte, who has frequently praised China and criticized his county’s long-standing alliance with the U.S.

Earlier this month, the Philippine defense secretary said his country’s defense treaty with the U.S. needs to be re-examined, bringing expressions of concern from Washington.

The newfound goodwill comes despite the fact that China and the Philippines have competing claims to territory in the South China Sea. The Philippines has been successful at international arbitration to contest China’s claim to virtually the entire crucial waterway, but Beijing has ignored the ruling.

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EX-PHILIPPINE OFFICIALS CLAIM CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY

Two former Philippine officials are filing a complaint with the International Criminal Court accusing Chinese President Xi Jinping of crimes against humanity over his government’s assertive actions in the South China Sea.

The two former officials contend that China’s actions have deprived thousands of fishermen of their livelihood and wrecked the environment.

Former Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario and ex-chief anti-graft prosecutor Conchita Carpio Morales said Thursday that they filed the complaint with the tribunal before the current Philippine president’s move to withdraw the country from the tribunal took effect.

They accused Xi and other Chinese officials of turning seven disputed reefs into islands, causing extensive environmental damage, and of blocking about 320,000 Filipinos and other counties’ fishermen from their fishing grounds.

“This has seriously undermined the food and energy security of the coastal states in the South China Sea, including the Philippines,” del Rosario and Carpio Morales said in a statement.

China’s island building, which started in 2013 in an effort to construct air and naval bases in the disputed waters, reportedly destroyed large expanses of coral reefs and endangered fisheries.

“It presents one of the most massive, near permanent and devastating destruction of the environment in humanity’s history,” they said.

There was no immediate reaction from China.

Duterte decided to withdraw the Philippines from the ICC last year in a move that took effect March 17. Duterte’s move has been challenged by human rights advocates before the Philippine Supreme Court.

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US NAVY PROTESTS CHINESE BEHAVIOR

A senior U.S. Navy commander says the U.S. won’t alter its so-called “freedom of navigation” sailings in the disputed South China Sea and has pressed ahead with such operations despite a dangerous maneuver by a Chinese navy ship against an American destroyer.

Vice Adm. Phillip Sawyer, commander of the U.S. 7th Fleet, told reporters in Manila that Washington protested that “unprofessional behavior” by the Chinese ship, which maneuvered very close to the USS Decatur as the latter sailed closely by a Chinese-occupied island in the Spratlys in September.

“No, it’s not going to change where we do our freedom of navigation operations,” Sawyer said when asked if the Sept. 30 incident off Gaven Reef would change such U.S. Navy operations. Several such sail-bys have been undertaken by American naval ships since that close encounter in the disputed waters, he said.

“It was concerning because the ships got too close,” Sawyer said, adding that U.S. officials have voiced “our displeasure with what we consider to be unprofessional behavior.”

The USS Decatur had sailed within 12 nautical miles of Gaven Reef when a Chinese destroyer approached within 45 yards (41 meters) of the bow of the U.S. Navy ship, which changed course to prevent a collision. The Decatur was also warned to leave the area, U.S. Pacific Fleet officials said at the time.

China said the Luoyang, a Chinese missile destroyer, was deployed to identify the U.S. warship and drive it away near Chinese territory. Beijing protested the Decatur’s action as provocative.

One of seven disputed reefs transformed by China into militarily fortified islands in recent years, Gaven is claimed by China, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan. Malaysia and Brunei also have claims in the South China Sea.

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Associated Press writer Jim Gomez reported from Manilla, Philippines.