MANILA -- Chinese naval vessels entered Philippine waters on February 1 amid efforts by the Philippines to peacefully resolve its territorial dispute with China in the West Philippine Sea through arbitration in the United Nations.
China's state-run Xinhua news agency reported on Sunday that a naval fleet of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) entered the West Philippine Sea "for patrol and training missions" this week.
Xinhua said the three ships from the PLA Navy's North China Sea fleet-the missile destroyer Qingdao and missile frigates Yantai and Yancheng-traveled through the Bashi Channel, an international sea route between Luzon and Taiwan, before entering the West Philippine Sea at 11:40 a.m. on Friday.
The report said the training exercises would be held within Chinese "territorial waters."
China claims almost all of the West Philippine Sea, including parts close to the shores of the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.
The Philippines has protested Chinese incursions into waters within its exclusive economic zone (EEZ), but China insists those waters are part of its territory.
Last month, the Philippines took its dispute with China to the United Nations for arbitration.
The Philippines asked the United Nations to declare invalid China's claim to parts of the sea that are within the Philippine EEZ. Manila also asked the United Nations to stop Beijing's incursions into Philippine territory in the sea.
It is not clear whether the Philippine action can proceed without China's participation in the arbitration. China refuses to bring its territorial disputes with its neighbors to any international forum, insisting on resolution through bilateral negotiations.
A congressional delegation from the United States that recently visited Manila, however, expressed support for the Philippines' decision to go into arbitration in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
The Department of Foreign Affairs said it decided to take the dispute to the United Nations because the government had already exhausted all other options.