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The United States rejects China's "unlawful" maritime claims in the South China Sea and stands with Southeast Asian countries facing Chinese "coercion", Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday.

The Philippines' defence minister on Tuesday ordered the military to investigate a report by a U.S.-based tech firm that hundreds of Chinese vessels were dumping sewage into contested areas of the South China Sea.

Growing military tension around Taiwan as well as economic and technological rivalry between China and the United States raises the prospect of crisis in the region as the power balance shifts in China's favour, Japan said in its annual defence white paper.

Swarms of Chinese vessels have dumped human waste and wastewater for years in a disputed area of the South China Sea, causing algae blooms that have damaged coral reefs and threatened fish in an unfolding catastrophe, a U.S.-based expert said Monday.

Filipino fisherman Randy Megu has often braved the storms that spring up in the South China Sea, but these days he has a greater fear: seeing a Chinese maritime enforcement vessel on the horizon.

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