South China Sea Tensions Persist at ASEAN

This combination of Sept. 3, 2016 photos provided by the Philippine Government shows what it says are surveillance pictures of Chinese coast guard ships and barges at the Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea.

The Philippines published photos Wednesday of what appears to be Chinese naval ships building an island in the contested South China Sea, just before a summit of Asian nations.

The photos showed an increased number of ships and what the Philippines says is evidence of "fresh" construction of an artificial island near Scarborough Shoal. They were released just before the annual meeting of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

"We remain seriously concerned over recent and ongoing developments and took note of the concerns expressed by some leaders on the land reclamations," read a joint closing statement at the summit.

Accusations denied

But China denied the accusations, saying they have simply "maintained a number of coast guard vessels for law enforcement patrols" in the area, according to the Chinese Embassy in Manila.

In July, the U.N. arbitration court dismissed China's territorial claims in the South China Sea, saying it has "no historic title" to the vast maritime region.

South China Sea Territorial Claims
South China Sea Territorial Claims

The ruling by the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration answers a complaint brought by the Philippines in 2013 that accused Beijing of violating the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) with its aggressive actions on the Scarborough Shoal, a reef located about 225 kilometers off the Philippine coast.