Philippines won’t be ‘intimidated’ but won’t start war amid row with China

President Marcos says he is in favour of peaceful resolution but refuses to be intimidated after a navy clash with China.

Chinese vessels surrounding a Philippines resupply mission in the South China Sea. There are mutiple Coast Guard personnel. One appears to have an axe.
Marcos praised about 80 officers and personnel involved in Monday’s supply mission, including one who lost his right thumb during the high seas confrontation [Armed Forces of the Philippines via AFP]

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr has said his country is not in the business of instigating wars but “will not be intimidated” by anyone after a violent clash between the Philippine Navy and the China Coast Guard in the South China Sea.

“In defending the nation, we stay true to our Filipino nature that we would like to settle all these issues peacefully,” Marcos said in a speech during a Sunday visit to the headquarters of the Philippine South China Sea forces on Palawan island.

Marcos awarded medals to 80 sailors who took part in the resupply mission, urging them to “continue to fulfil your duty of defending the nation” even as, he said, the situation has become “dangerous”.

“We will never be intimidated or oppressed by anyone,” said Marcos, who did not name China in his speech. He pledged to “continue to exercise our freedoms and rights in support of our national interest, in accordance with international law”.

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

The violent clash which took place Monday off Second Thomas Shoal – about 200km (120 miles) from Palawan and more than 1,000km (621 miles) from China’s southern Hainan island – saw Chinese forces injuring members of the Philippines navy Filipino navy and damaging at least two military boats with machetes, axes and hammers in the disputed South China Sea.

A Filipino sailor lost a thumb in the clash, with Manila also accusing the Chinese coastguard sailors of stealing or damaging their equipment, including guns and inflatable boats.

Beijing insisted its coastguard behaved in a “professional and restrained” way and blamed Manila for the clash.

Ferdinand Marcos
Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr [File: Evelyn Hockstein/Pool via AP]

Territorial disputes

The incident is the latest and most serious in a series of escalating confrontations between Chinese and Philippine ships in recent months as Beijing steps up its claims to nearly all of the strategically located waterway.

The incident led to condemnation and alarm from the United States, the European Union, Japan, Australia and other Western and Asian nations, while China and the Philippines blamed each other for instigating it, heightening concern that the US, which has a mutual defence pact with Manila, may get dragged into the dispute.

The Philippine government said it did not consider Monday’s clash as an “armed attack” that would trigger a provision in the treaty for Washington to come to Manila’s aid. However, it also said it was concerned Chinese forces would launch a similar attempt to dislodge a small Philippine military garrison on Second Thomas Shoal.

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

Beijing enacted new regulations last week to enforce a 2021 law permitting its coastguard to use lethal force against foreign ships in the waters it claims.

The coastguard can also detain suspected trespassers for up to 60 days without trial.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies