Philippines says it won't back down, but won't start a war, after clash with Chinese Coast Guard

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The president of the Philippines said Sunday his country would not yield to “any foreign power” after Chinese forces injured Filipino navy personnel and damaged at least two military boats with machetes, axes and hammers in a clash in the disputed South China Sea, but added the Philippines would never instigate 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 navy personnel who came under assault by the Chinese coast guard Monday as they attempted to deliver food and other supplies to an outpost on the hotly contested Second Thomas Shoal.

Videos and pictures of the chaotic faceoff made public by the military showed Chinese coast guard personnel hitting a Philippine navy boat with a wooden bar and seizing a bag while blaring sirens and using blinding strobe lights. The Chinese government said that its coast guard had to take action after Filipino forces defied warnings not to stray into what China calls its own offshore territory, a claim long rejected by rival claimant governments and international arbitrators.

The violent confrontation sparked condemnation and alarm from the U.S., the European Union, Japan, Australia and other Western and Asian nations, while China and the Philippines blamed each other for instigating it. Marcos’s key advisers said Friday that his administration has no plan to invoke the country's mutual defense treaty with the United States.

“We are not in the business to instigate wars,” Marcos told Filipino forces. “In defending the nation, we stay true to our Filipino nature that we would like to settle all these issues peacefully.”

In Monday’s faceoff at the shoal, Marcos said “we made a conscious and deliberate choice to remain in the path of peace.” The Filipino navy special operations group personnel who came under attack used only their bare hands to push back the Chinese, some of whom pointed knives at them, said Philippine military chief Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr.

“We stand firm. Our calm and peaceful disposition should not be mistaken for acquiescence,” Marcos said. "History itself can tell that we have never, never in the history of the Philippines yielded to any foreign power."

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

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, saying they “exercised the greatest restraint amidst intense provocation.” He issued an appeal: “Continue to fulfill your duty of defending 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 U.S. 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 Filipino forces are attacked, including in the South China Sea.

Indonesian forces have also opened fire on Chinese fishing boats in past confrontations in waters off the Natuna islands on the fringes of the South China Sea.

06/23/2024 06:14 -0400

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