The United States has seen Chinese activity around a reef that China seized from the Philippines nearly four years ago that could be a precursor to more land reclamation in the disputed South China Sea, the U.S. Navy chief said on Thursday.
The head of U.S. 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 U.S. military had seen Chinese activity around Scarborough Shoal in the northern part of the Spratly archipelago, about 125 miles (200 km) west of the Philippine base of Subic Bay.
"I think we see some surface ship activity and those sorts of things, surve type of activity, going on. That's an area of concern ... a next possible area of reclamation," he said.