The Philippine government is investigating whether China has taken control of a disputed atoll and pushed fishermen away. International tensions are high over the South China Sea.
Relying on local officials and fishermen sources, the Philippine "Star" newspaper reported on Wednesday that Chinese ships have been stationed for a month at Jackson Atoll, also known as Quirino Atoll, in waters claimed by the Philippines.
Local fishermen reported gray and white Chinese ships blocked them from fishing in traditional waters. The ring-shaped coral reefs lie between Lawak Island, claimed by the Philippines, and the Chinese-occupied Mischief Reef.
If the report is verified, the move would add to already heightened tensions in the South China Sea, where Beijing claims sovereignty.
Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Vietnam have overlapping sovereignty claims over parts of the South China Sea, a major global shipping lane rich in minerals and fisheries.
To strengthen its claims, China has built military bases in the South China Sea.
The dispute has drawn in the United States, which is challenging Beijing's claim of sovereignty over islands by conducting so-called freedom of navigation exercises in the South China Sea.
cw/kms (dpa, Reuters)