PH verifying China missile test in South China Sea

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The U.S. military earlier reported that China test-fired at least one anti-ship missile from the artificial islands in the Spratlys in the South China Sea. (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 4) — National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon on Thursday said the government is now looking into the reported missile test China had conducted in the disputed South China Sea.

"We have started to verify it," Esperon said in a text message to reporters, a day after Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana announced an inquiry would soon be launched.

The U.S. military earlier reported that China test-fired at least one anti-ship missile from the artificial islands in the Spratlys in the South China Sea. The U.S., which has repeatedly criticized China's alleged militarization of the area, called the East Asian giant's move "disturbing."

Esperon agreed, saying "any testing of missiles is of concern."

Chinese authorities have not made a statement on the supposed missile test. In May, a U.S. defense official told CNN China may have deployed missile systems in three islands of the South China Sea.

China continues to claim almost the entire global waterway despite a 2016 arbitration ruling that invalidated its stake that is supposedly based on historical records.

The international tribunal, administratively supported by Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, recognized the Philippines' sovereign rights to some sea features within in its 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) that China claims. The government calls the areas that the Philippines either claims or occupies as the West Philippine Sea, including the Kalayaan Island Group in the Spratlys, where China has built artificial islands, prohibited Filipino fishermen from fishing, and interfered in petroleum exploration.

In 2018, China reportedly finished transforming seven reefs that are also claimed by the Philippines in the Spratlys: Fiery Cross Reef, Subi Reef, Mischief Reef, Cuarteron Reef, Gaven Reef, Hughes Reef, and Johnson South Reef.

The supposed missile test from one of these man-made islands comes as Manila and Beijing are investigating the sinking of a Filipino boat near Reed Bank or Recto Bank, an underwater feature with the country's EEZ, after being hit by a Chinese vessel. President Rodrigo Duterte is criticized for entering into an agreement with Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2016, allowing Chinese fishing in Recto Bank despite a constitutional provision that states the country's EEZ should be reserved to the exclusive use of Filipinos.