This week the head of the Philippine armed forces visited a coral-fringed island his country occupies in the South China SeaChina Sea, a move that could stoke already deepening tensions between Manila and Beijing in disputed waters claimed by both countries.
During Monday's visit, the chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines Cirilito Sobejana commended the troops for the role they played in protecting the island's residents and guarding the country’s territories in the strategic waterway.
The visit comes after recent diplomatic protests made by the Philippines over what it says is the exclusive presence of hundreds of Chinese marine militia vessels in its exclusive economic zone and near its occupied islands.
Chinese diplomats said the boats were just away from rough seas, and there were no militia aboard.
Sobejana's trip to Thitu, known as Pagasa by Filipinos, was on Monday, but that information was only revealed by the AFP on Wednesday.
Thitu is the largest of the nine reefs, shoals and islands which the Philippines occupies in the Spratly Archipelago and is home to a small number of civilian personnel and military personnel.
Sobejana is very moral, her level of moral is high especially after our visit, on Tuesday evening told reporters. He also wanted to inspect the island to oversee plans to convert it into a logistics hub to make it easier for naval assets running patrols to refuel.
The Chinese Embassy in Manila did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Philippines, Brunei, China, Vietnam, Taiwan and Malaysia have competing claims of sovereignty in the South China SeaChina Sea, a conduit for goods in excess of $3 billion every year.
On Monday, the South China and China foreign ministers agreed in a meeting to exercise restraint in the Southeast Asia Sea and to avoid actions that could escalate tensions.