Philippines, China trade barbs over S.China Sea

The Philippines and China are trading accusations over the presence of Chinese fishing vessels in the Philippine's exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea.

Manila lodged a protest with Beijing after about 220 vessels were found moored 300 kilometers west of Palawan Island in early March. China argued that the vessels were there to avoid rough weather.

But the Philippine defense department issued a statement on Saturday under the name of defense secretary Delfin Lorenzana, saying that 44 Chinese vessels are still staying there. The statement also said, "I am no fool. The weather has been good so far, so they have no other reason to stay there. These vessels should be on their way out."

In response, the Chinese Embassy in Manila wrote on Facebook that the waters have been "a traditional fishing ground for Chinese fishermen for many years."

It urged the Philippines to "avoid any unprofessional remarks which may further fan irrational emotions."

The Philippine defense department issued another statement on Sunday, criticizing the Chinese side for disregarding international law.

The statement said China's claim over the waters was "flatly and categorically rejected by the arbitral tribunal."

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has not addressed the sovereignty dispute, as he wants to maintain economic ties with China.

It's rare for his government to mention arbitration that had been filed before he took office.