Philippines says it will not start war after clash with Chinese coast guard

MANILA (AP) — The Philippines’ president said Sunday his country will not yield to “any foreign power” after Chinese forces injured members of the Philippine navy and damaged at least two military boats with machetes, axes and hammers during a clash in the disputed region. South China Sea, but added that the Philippines would never start a war.

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. flew with his top generals and defense chief to the western island province of Palawan, which faces the South China Sea, to meet and award medals to members of the navy who were attacked Monday by the Chinese coast guard while trying to deliver food and other supplies to an outpost on the hotly contested Second Thomas Shoal.

Videos and photos of the chaotic confrontation released by the military showed Chinese coast guard personnel hitting a Philippine navy boat with a wooden bar and grabbing a bag while sounding sirens and using lights blinding strobes. The Chinese government said its coast guard had to act after Philippine forces defied warnings not to venture into what China calls its own offshore territory, a claim long rejected by rival governments and international referees.

The violent confrontation drew condemnation and concern from the United States, the European Union, Japan, Australia and other Western and Asian countries, while China and the Philippines rejected each other. mutually responsible for this confrontation. Top Marcos advisers said Friday that his administration has no plans to invoke the country’s mutual defense treaty with the United States.

“We are not in the business of starting wars,” Marcos told Philippine forces. “In defending the nation, we remain true to our Filipino nature and wish to resolve all these issues peacefully.”

In this photo provided by the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Chinese coast guards hold knives and machetes as they approach Philippine troops on a resupply mission in the Second Thomas Shoal in the disputed South China Sea, June 17, 2024. © AP

During Monday’s puck drop, Marcos said “we have made a conscious and deliberate choice to stay on the path to peace.” Personnel from the Philippine Navy’s special operations group that came under attack used only their bare hands to fend off the Chinese, some of whom pointed knives at them, Philippine military chief Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr. said .

“We remain firm. Our calm and peace should not be confused with acquiescence,” Marcos said. “History itself can say that we have never, never in the history of the Philippines, surrendered to a foreign power.”

Chinese officials in Manila and Beijing did not immediately comment on Marcos’ remarks.

Marcos praised about 80 officers and personnel involved in Monday’s resupply mission, including one who lost his right thumb in the high-seas clash, saying they “showed the utmost restraint in amidst intense provocations. He appealed: “Continue to fulfill your duty to defend the nation with integrity and respect, as you have done so far. »

The territorial disputes, which involve China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan, have long been seen as a flashpoint that could pit the United States against China if clashes on the high seas escalate into armed conflict. . Washington has repeatedly warned that it is obligated to defend the Philippines, its oldest ally in Asia, if Philippine forces are attacked, including in the South China Sea.

Indonesian forces have also opened fire on Chinese fishing boats in past clashes in waters off the Natuna Islands on the edge of the South China Sea.

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