Philippines to ‘respond appropriately’ to Chinese ‘harassment’ in South China Sea, military

In Asia

Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff General Romeo Brawner speaks during a press conference after a command conference with Philippines’ President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. (not pictured) at the military headquarters in Manila on July 4, 2024. 

Ted Aljibe | Afp | Getty Images

Filipino soldiers will “respond appropriately” and defend themselves against “harassment” from Chinese coast guards at the disputed Second Thomas Shoal, chief of Philippines armed forces, Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr. said Thursday. 

The warning comes after Chinese Coast Guards last month seized and damaged two Philippine ships and injured military personnel on a resupply run to an outpost on the Shoal, according to Philippine officials.  

Manila asserts that China has been attempting to disrupt resupply runs to a Philippine ship parked on the Shoal since 1999. Both the countries claim the island as their own but the ship’s presence has been used to reinforce Manila’s maritime claims.

The latest flare-up had involved an escalation of violence, with the Chinese Coast Guard brandishing knives and axes against their Filipino counterparts. 

“Under the Rules of Engagement (ROE), a person has the right to defend himself in any manner … So, for instance, should someone attack, what we will do is that we will apply the same level of force that would allow us to defend ourselves,” Brawner said after a meeting with President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. 

Brawner added that this proportionality would mean that if Filipino troops are attacked with knives, they will use similar weapons to defend themselves, though they will not resort to excess force such as gunfire. 

Second Thomas Shoal tensions: China may become 'a bit more aggressive,' analyst says

Beijing appears to have taken an adversarial stance with Philippine vessels in the South China Sea, reportedly using water cannons and ramming into boats.

Brawner reportedly also said that Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos Jr had ordered his armed forces to work to lower tensions in the South China Sea.

Philippines Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo has confirmed the two sides were working to reach an “understanding or a possible agreement” over the Shoal. 

Earlier this week, the country’s foreign affairs department said that while there was “substantial progress” on developing measures towards de-escalation, “significant differences remain.” 

Amid the peace talks, the Philippines military has also called for China to return seven firearms seized by the Chinese coast guard during the June 2 flare-up and to pay around $1 million in compensation for damages. 

Manila is also looking to charge China with the cost of the surgery of a Filipino sailor who lost his right thumb during a confrontation with Chinese Coast Guard members, according to Brawner. 

In a press briefing on Thursday, a Beijing spokesperson said the Philippines had carried out an illegal and provocative mission in China’s territory and thus should “face the consequences of its own action.”

Analyst discusses festering tensions between China and the Philippines in the South China Sea

Experts have told CNBC that the latest incident at the Shoal had increased fears of an escalation between the two parties, with Beijing pushing the limits of the existing Philippine-U.S. defense pact that promises to defend the Philippines against “armed attacks.” 

However, it remains in the best interest of all parties to deescalate the situation, Lowy Institute’s Rahman Yaacob told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Asia.”  

The South China Sea is host to a number of disputed territories, with other countries in the region increasingly expressing concerns about rising tensions. 

Philippine state media has quoted Japanese Ambassador Kazuya Endo as saying that Tokyo was closely watching the talks between Manila and Beijing, noting issues surrounding the South China Sea were a “legitimate concern” for Japan and the international community, affecting regional peace and stability.

The Thai government on Thursday called for “dialogue and diplomacy” in the South China Sea during a bilateral meeting with Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo in Makati.

Beijing has challenged Manila’s version of the Second Thomas Shoal incident, with a spokesperson saying that China had taken “necessary” measures to “safeguard its sovereignty,” accusing the Philippines of intruding into China’s waters. 

Read More: Philippines to ‘respond appropriately’ to Chinese ‘harassment’ in South China Sea, military

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