The United States has seen Chinese activity around a reef seized by China from the Philippines nearly four years ago, which could be a precursor to more land reclamation in the disputed South China Sea, the US navy chief said on Thursday.
The head of US naval operations, Admiral John Richardson, expressed concern that an international court ruling expected in coming weeks on a case brought by the Philippines against China over its South China Sea claims could be a trigger for Beijing to declare an exclusion zone in the busy trade route.
Richardson told Reuters the United States was weighing responses to such a move.
He said the US military had seen Chinese activity around Scarborough Shoal in the northern part of the Spratly archipelago, about 200km (125 miles) west of the Philippine base of Subic Bay.
“I think we see some surface ship activity and those sorts of things, survey type of activity, going on. That’s an area of concern … a next possible area of reclamation,” he said.