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“We will not be cowed into silence,” says President Marcos after China sea clash

President Ferdinand Marcos said Thursday the Philippines will not be “cowed into silence” by Beijing after confrontations in the South China Sea that injured Filipino troops and damaged vessels.

Marcos’s remarks came as China blamed the Philippines for raising tensions in the hotly contested waterway, which Beijing claims almost entirely.

Beijing and Manila have a long history of maritime territorial disputes in the South China Sea and there have been repeated confrontations between their vessels near disputed reefs in recent months.

Manila summoned a Chinese envoy over the latest incident near Second Thomas Shoal in the Spratly Islands, which occurred last Saturday during a Philippine mission to resupply troops garrisoned on the BRP Sierra Madre, a grounded navy ship.

The Philippines said the China Coast Guard blocked its supply vessel and damaged it with water cannon, injuring three soldiers.

The China Coast Guard has defended its actions, describing them as “lawful regulation, interception and expulsion” of a foreign vessel that “tried to forcefully intrude” into Chinese waters.

Beijing has urged Manila to “pull back from the brink” and stop “provoking trouble at sea”, but Marcos hit back on Thursday.

“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 in a statement.

He said the Philippines would respond with a “countermeasure package that is proportionate, deliberate, and reasonable in the face of the open, unabating, and illegal, coercive, aggressive, and dangerous attacks by agents of the China Coast Guard and the Chinese Maritime Militia”.

“Filipinos do not yield,” Marcos said.

This frame grab from video footage taken and released on March 25, 2024 by the Philippine Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (PCG/BFAR) shows a Chinese helicopter hovering as Philippine scientists inspect a cay near the Philippine-held Thitu Island, in the Spratly Islands, in the disputed South China Sea. Deputy foreign ministers from China and the Philippines held a tense phone call on March 25, 2024, Beijing said, after Manila summoned a Chinese envoy over “aggressive actions” by the China Coast Guard in the contested South China Sea. (Photo by Handout / Philippine Coast Guard / AFP)
This handout photo taken on March 23, 2024 and released by the Philippine Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (PCG/BFAR) on March 25, 2024 shows an aerial view of BRP Datu Pagbuaya as it sails from the Philippine-held Thitu Island sheltered port, in the Spratly Islands, in the disputed South†China†Sea. Deputy foreign ministers from China and the Philippines held a tense phone call on March 25, 2024, Beijing said, after Manila summoned a Chinese envoy over “aggressive actions” by the China Coast Guard in the contested South China Sea. (Photo by Handout / Philippine Coast Guard / AFP)

– ‘A dangerous road’ –

China claims almost the entire South China Sea, brushing off rival claims from other countries, including the Philippines, as well as an international ruling that its assertion has no legal basis.

Among the claimants, China has been the most assertive, deploying ships to patrol the waters and building artificial islands which it has militarised.

In a statement Thursday entitled “China Will Not Allow the Philippines to Act Wilfully”, Beijing’s defence ministry blamed “the provocations by the Philippine side” for the increased tensions over the South China Sea.

“Relying on the backing of external forces… the Philippine side has frequently infringed on rights and provoked and created trouble at sea, as well as spreading false information to mislead the international community’s perception of the issue, which is, so to speak, going further and further down a dangerous road,” it added.

Second Thomas Shoal is about 200 kilometres (120 miles) from the western Philippine island of Palawan, and more than 1,000 kilometres from China’s nearest major landmass, Hainan island.

This handout satellite image released by Maxar Technologies on March 24, 2024 and dated March 23, 2024 shows Chinese and Philippine ships in waters where the Philippines said the China Coast Guard blocked their supply vessel and damaged it with water cannon, during a Philippine supply mission near Second Thomas Shoal in disputed waters of the South China Sea. The Philippines said the China Coast Guard blocked a Filipino supply vessel and damaged it with water cannon on March 23, causing injuries near a reef off the Southeast Asian country. (Photo by Handout / Satellite image ©2024 Maxar Technologies / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE – MANDATORY CREDIT “AFP PHOTO / Satellite image ©2024 Maxar Technologies” – NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS – DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS – THE WATERMARK MAY NOT BE REMOVED/CROPPED

– US repeats ‘ironclad’ commitment –

The United States, a treaty ally of the Philippines, has led a chorus of support for the Southeast Asian country in response to Chinese actions.

Marcos said the international community had “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.”

“I have given them our requirements and we have been assured that they will be addressed,” he said, without providing details.

His statement came after US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin repeated the United States’ “ironclad” commitment to its longtime ally in a call with his Filipino counterpart Gilberto Teodoro on Wednesday.

Last Saturday’s incident followed similar confrontations near Second Thomas Shoal earlier in the month.

Manila said China Coast Guard ships caused two collisions with Philippine boats and water cannoned one of them, leaving four Filipino crew members injured.

© Agence France-Presse

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