Philippines says it did not consider invoking US pact over South China Sea clash

June 22, 2024 - 5:34 PM
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Philippine Coast Guard personnel prepare rubber fenders after Chinese Coast Guard vessels blocked their way to a resupply mission at the Second Thomas Shoal in the South China Sea, March 5, 2024. (Reuters/Adrian Portugal/File Photo)

The Philippines did not consider invoking a mutual defense treaty with the United States after accusing China of disrupting a resupply mission in the disputed South China Sea, officials said on Friday.

A Philippine sailor suffered serious injury after what its military described as “intentional-high speed ramming” by the Chinese Coast Guard on Monday, aiming to disrupt a resupply mission for troops stationed on the Second Thomas Shoal.

Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin, who also chairs the national maritime council, said the confrontation between Philippine navy sailors and the Chinese coast guard “was probably a misunderstanding or an accident”.

“We are not yet ready to classify this as an armed attack,” Bersamin told a briefing. “I think this is a matter that can easily be resolved by us and if China wants to work with us, we can work with China.”

China’s foreign ministry disputed the Philippines’ account, with a spokesperson saying on Thursday that the necessary measures taken were lawful, professional and beyond reproach.

China’s embassy in Manila did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Philippines has a mutual defence treaty with the United States, and U.S. officials including President Joe Biden have reaffirmed its “ironclad” defence commitments against any attack on Philippine aircraft and vessels in the South China Sea.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in a call with the Philippines’ foreign minister on Wednesday, “underscored the United States’ ironclad commitments to the Philippines under the Mutual Defense Treaty.

Andres Centino, a presidential assistant for maritime concerns, said invoking the treaty was not considered in discussions.

The council, however, had recommended to President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. that its resupply missions to the disputed shoal should be announced and continue to be “scheduled regularly”.

—Reporting by Mikhail Flores, Karen Lema and Neil Jerome Morales, Editing by Ed Davies and Timothy Heritage