• The Philippines said the Chinese vessel constrained the maneuvering space of its ship 
  • However, Beijing said the disputed Scarborough Shoal was "China’s inherent territory" 
  • This comes as the Philippines and the U.S. began a massive drill in the country

China has slammed the Philippines and claimed "sovereignty" over the Scarborough Shoal in the disputed South China Sea, a day after Manila protested the presence of a Chinese vessel near the shoal.

The territorial dispute between the two countries came to the fore once again Monday when Manila reported the "close distance maneuvering" of a Chinese Coast Guard vessel near the Scarborough Shoal. According to the Philippines Coast Guard (PCG), the incident took place on March 2 during Philippine maritime patrol operations around the Scarborough Shoal, locally known as Bajo de Masinloc, reported CNN.

The PCG said the Chinese Coast Guard vessel with bow number 3305 conducted a close distance maneuvering over an area of approximately 21 yards (19.2 meters) in the direction of Philippine vessel BRP Malabrigo. "This constrained the maneuvering space of BRP Malabrigo -- a clear violation of the 1972 International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (COLREGS)," the PCG said.

Though it is unclear whether Manila lodged a diplomatic protest in this regard, China responded harshly to the report, according to CNN Philippines.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said the disputed shoal was "China’s inherent territory" and it had "sovereignty over Huangyan Dao (Scarborough Shoal) and its adjacent waters as well as sovereign rights and jurisdiction over relevant waters."

"We hope that the Philippine ships will earnestly respect China’s sovereignty and rights and interests, abide by China’s domestic law and international law, and avoid interfering with the patrol and law enforcement of the China Coast Guard in the above-mentioned waters," he added.

However, Manila refused to bow down to Chinese belligerence. A statement by acting presidential spokesperson Martin Andanar read: "The Philippine position is we continue to exercise full sovereignty over Bajo de Masinloc and its territorial sea, as well as sovereign rights and jurisdiction over the surrounding EEZ and continental shelf."

The shoal, which lies within the Philippines' 200-mile exclusive economic zone, is currently effectively controlled by China, which has maintained a constant coast guard presence there since 2012.

The war of words between the two countries comes a day after the Philippines and U.S. kickstarted the largest-ever joint military drills in the archipelago nation. The drills, which signal deepening defense ties between the two countries, will have over 9,000 Filipino and American soldiers taking part in the 12-day training event across the main island of Luzon.

The war games are also last under outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte, who had threatened to cancel exercises and ax a key military deal with the U.S.

A Philippine coast guard ship sails past a Chinese coast guard ship near Scarborough shoal in the South China Sea in May 2019
A file picture of a Philippine coast guard ship sailing past a Chinese coast guard ship near Scarborough shoal in the South China Sea AFP / TED ALJIBE