China usually does not respond to accusations over its bullying activities in Asian waters but a diplomatic protest by the Philippines has prompted the Communist giant to accuse the Philippines of "illegal provocative activities" in the West Philippine Sea. Claiming that its security and sovereignty are being violated by Philippine aircraft, Beijing has called for them to stop the fly-overs in the region, even though the area is within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

In a response to last week’s diplomatic protest that the Philippines filed over the confiscation of fish aggregating devices from Filipino fishermen, while addressing a press briefing, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Li Jian said, "China urges the Philippines to immediately stop illegal provocative activities. The Philippines infringes on China’s sovereignty and security by sending military aircraft into air space adjacent to Nanshan island and reefs garrisoned by China."

According to the Philippines Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), the seizure of the fish-aggregating devices occurred in the Scarborough Shoal in May, Bloomberg reported.

Nanshan Island is part of the Spratly Island group that has been contested for several years. It is one of the nine or ten islands claimed by the Philippines but it also is claimed by China who disregards the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) ruling in 2016 that China's "Nine-Dash-line" claim over most of the South China Sea has no basis in international law.

Last week’s protest, filed by the DFA said, "The Philippines also resolutely objected to China’s continuing illicit issuances of radio challenges [to] Philippine aircraft conducting legitimate regular maritime patrols in the West Philippine Sea."

In his statement, Zhao Li Jian also said that the Chinese Coast Guard was acting "in accordance with the law."

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s recent State of the Nation address included his assessment that any military actions would not favor his country. He pointed out that any Philippine troops would be wiped out in battle and said, "China is claiming it. We are claiming it. China has arms; we do not have it. So, it's simple as that," referring to an armed battle in the South China Sea.

He stressed that the issues are better settled through dialogue and diplomacy. Since his election, he has sought warmer ties with China as part of a pivot to a new "independent foreign policy" and away from the U.S., the Philippines ' most powerful ally.

An aerial view of Spratly Islands. Reuters/U.S. Navy