A spokesman for the convoy told reporters via a messaging app that it was “still far from the shoal”, while the Philippine Coast Guard said in Manila that it was deploying more vessels for escort duty.

In Beijing, foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin asserted on Wednesday that China had “indisputable sovereignty” over Scarborough Shoal.

“If the Philippines abuses China’s goodwill and infringes on China’s territorial sovereignty and jurisdiction, China will lawfully safeguard its rights and take countermeasures,” he told reporters.

“Relevant responsibility and consequences will be borne entirely by the Philippines.”

The Scarborough Shoal has been a potential flashpoint since Beijing seized it from Manila in 2012.

The fish-rich reef is about 240km west of the Philippines’ main island of Luzon and nearly 900km from Hainan, the nearest major Chinese land mass.

China claims almost the entire South China Sea, brushing off rival claims by the Philippines and other countries, and ignoring an international ruling that its assertion has no legal basis.

To press its claims, Beijing deploys coast guard and other boats to patrol the waterway and has turned several reefs into artificial islands that it has militarised.

“This civilian supply mission is not just about delivering supplies, it’s about reaffirming our presence and rights in our own waters,” convoy organiser Edicio Dela Torre said in a statement on Wednesday.

“The world is watching, and the narrative of rightful ownership and peaceful assertion is clearly on our side,” Dela Torre added.

Tensions over the disputed waters and reefs have intensified in the past 18 months as Manila has pushed back against China’s growing assertiveness.

This is the second civilian convoy organised by the Atin Ito group, whose name is Tagalog for “This is Ours”.

A previous trip to the South China Sea in December was aborted due to shadowing by Chinese vessels.


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