BEIJING: China has denied it is increasing combat readiness in response to a territorial row with the Philippines over a disputed shoal in the South China Sea.
The tense stand-off, which erupted last month, centres on Scarborough Shoal, a tiny rocky outcrop in the South China Sea about 230 kilometres (140 miles) from the Philippines' main island of Luzon.
The dispute began when Philippine authorities detected Chinese ships fishing there. They attempted to arrest the crew, but were blocked by Chinese surveillance vessels that were quickly deployed to the area.
China's defence ministry denied military units were getting ready for war, despite warnings in state media that China is prepared to fight to end the stand-off.
"Reports that the Guangzhou military region, the South China Sea fleet and other units have entered a state of war preparedness are untrue," the ministry said in a brief statement on its website Friday.
The Guangzhou military region in southern China has responsibility for the area.
It gave no source for the reports, but rumours on the Internet say China has ordered some military units up to level two of its four-level scale of war preparedness, one notch from the top which indicates full readiness.
The two nations have had non-military vessels stationed at the shoal since April 8 in an effort to assert their sovereignty to the area.
China claims virtually all of the South China Sea, which is believed to sit atop huge oil and gas reserves, as its historical territory, even waters close to the coasts of other Asian countries.
The Philippines says the shoal is part of its territory because it falls within its exclusive economic zone.
On Friday, around 300 protestors demonstrated outside the Chinese embassy in the Philippines to denounce "bullying" by Beijing. (AFP)