Philippines ups stakes in China row, vows countermeasures to coastguard ‘attacks’

March 29, 2024 - 9:10 AM
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A Chinese Coast Guard ship allegedly obstructs the Philippine Coast Guard vessel Malabrigo as it provided support during a Philippine Navy operation near Second Thomas Shoal in the disputed South China Sea, June 30, 2023 in this handout image released July 5, 2023. (Philippine Coast Guard/Handout via Reuters)
  • Marcos says measures will be deliberate and reasonable
  • China accuses Philippines of ‘treachery’
  • U.S defense secretary says ties with Manila ‘ironclad’

 The Philippines will implement countermeasures against “illegal, coercive, aggressive, and dangerous attacks” by China’s coastguard, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said on Thursday, upping the stakes in an escalating row in the South China Sea.

The Philippines is furious over what it calls repeated hostilities by Chinese vessels around disputed features inside Manila’s 200-mile exclusive economic zone. The United States has weighed in with moral support for its former colony and military ally.

Marcos did not specify what the countermeasures would entail, but said they would come in succeeding weeks and be proportionate, deliberate and reasonable in response to what he called open and unabating attacks.

READ: Marcos vows countermeasures in response to Chinese ‘attacks’

“We seek no conflict with any nation, more so nations that purport and claim to be our friends but we will not be cowed into silence, submission, or subservience,” Marcos said on Facebook.

The deterioration in relations with China comes as Marcos seeks to deepen defense ties with the United States, increasing U.S. access to Philippine military bases and expanding joint exercises to include sea and air patrols over the South China Sea, frustrating Beijing.

Chinese Defense Ministry spokesperson Wu Qian on Thursday said the Philippines was to blame for the breakdown and was counting on support from external forces while peddling misinformation and infringing on China’s sovereignty.

‘Dangerous path’

“It is straying further down a dangerous path. The Chinese side will not allow the Philippines to act willfully,” Wu told a briefing.

“We have responded with legitimate, resolute and restrained actions. The Philippine side should realize that provocations will only do themselves more harm than good, and soliciting foreign support will lead nowhere.”

The latest flare-up occurred last week, when China used water cannon to disrupt another Philippine resupply mission to the Second Thomas Shoal for soldiers posted to guard a warship intentionally grounded on a reef 25 years ago.

READ: China coastguard uses water cannons against Philippine ships in South China Sea

China, which claims almost the entire South China Sea as its own, warned the Philippines on Monday to behave cautiously and seek dialogue, saying their relations were at a “crossroads”.

READ: China says relations with Philippines at ‘crossroads’ amid maritime incidents

Marcos said he met his defense and security officials and has been in communication with “friends in the international community”.

“They have offered to help us on what the Philippines requires to protect and secure our sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction while ensuring peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific,” Marcos said.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Wednesday reaffirmed Washington’s commitment to a 1951 mutual defense treaty with the Philippines and criticized as “dangerous” China’s actions at the Second Thomas Shoal.

READ: U.S. defense chief reaffirms support for Philippines, chides ‘dangerous’ Chinese conduct

In a phone call on Wednesday with Philippine counterpart Gilberto Teodoro, Austin “reaffirmed the ironclad U.S. commitment to the Philippines” which it said was undertaking a lawful resupply mission.

The Philippine-U.S. treaty binds both countries to defend each other if under attack and includes coastguard, civilian and military vessels in the South China Sea.

Asked about Marcos vowing countermeasures, China’s defense spokesperson Wu said Beijing would take resolute and decisive measures to defend its sovereignty.

“China firmly opposes the Philippine side’s treachery and provocation, as well as its fabrication of lies to mislead international public opinion,” Wu said.

— Reporting by Neil Jerome Morales in Manila and Yew Lun Tian in Beijing; Editing by Martin Petty and Philippa Fletcher