BEIJING (Reuters) - China accused the Philippines on Thursday of deliberately stirring up trouble over a chain of disputed reefs and rocks in the South China Sea, saying Manila was "creating trouble out of nothing" over an intrinsically Chinese territory.
Friction over the South China Sea, one of the world's most important waterways, has surged as China uses its growing naval might to assert its vast claims over the oil- and gas-rich sea more forcefully, raising fears of a military clash.
The Philippines said this week that China planned to occupy the Scarborough Shoal before regional rules on maritime behavior took effect, and had been laying concrete blocks there.
China is due to host talks this month with Southeast Asian countries on a Code of Conduct for the South China Sea which will supersede the Declaration of Conduct, a non-binding confidence-building pact on maritime conduct signed by China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 2002.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said it was the Philippines which was causing the problems.
"The Scarborough Shoal is China's intrinsic territory. The Philippines should respect China's sovereignty," he told a daily news briefing.
"If the Philippines really is paying attention to, and cares about, the Code of Conduct for the South China Sea, it ought to earnestly stand by, and put into effect, the Declaration of Conduct, and create a good environment and conditions for talks on the Code of Conduct, and not make trouble out of nothing and cause incidents."
In Manila, the defense department released fresh air surveillance pictures showing Chinese ships and about 75 concrete blocks and what appeared to be pillars at the mouth of the Scarborough Shoal.
Four of the 10 members of ASEAN, including Vietnam and the Philippines, have overlapping claims with China.
Critics say China is intent on cementing its claims over the South China Sea through its superior and growing naval might, and has little interest in rushing to agree to the Code of Conduct.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Additional reporting by Manuel Mogato in MANILA)