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Act of war? PHL soldiers hurt, guns seized as China attacks again in WPS

By Jeanne Michael Penaranda

CAMP AGUINALDO/WASHINGTON/ITALY — China’s Coast Guard, reportedly aided by militias, attacked the Philippine Coast Guard boats again in the West Philippine Sea, ramming the PCG ships leaving several Filipino soldiers injured.

The attack, including boarding the Philippine vessel and seizing several firearms, and communication gadgets, was immediately condemned by G7 led by the United States and European Union leaders as well as Asian allies even as some Philippine leaders like former Senator Richard Gordon branded China’s dangerous actions as “an act of war” deserving a counter action.

Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr., Armed Forces of the Philippines chief, visited the injured soldiers at the AFP Western Command in Palawan, decorated one with a wounded soldier medal as he vowed that the AFP will not be cowered by Beijing in defending the Philippine territory.

Brawner also demanded that China return several rifles and equipment seized by a China Coast Guard while the Philippine soldiers were on a re-supply mission in Ayungin Shoal, a part of the Philippine territory and exclusive economic zone.

Reports from the AFP Western Command indicated Chinese personnel on board more than eight motorboats repeatedly rammed then boarded two Philippine navy inflatable boats Monday to prevent Filipino navy personnel from transferring food and other supplies including firearms to a Philippine territorial outpost in Ayungin Shoal (Second Thomas Shoal).After a scuffle and repeated collisions, the Chinese seized the boats and damaged them with machetes, knives and hammers. They also seized eight M4 rifles, which were packed in cases, navigation equipment and other supplies and wounded a number of Filipino navy personnel, including one who lost his right thumb, two Philippine security officials disclosed.

The United States renewed a warning Tuesday that it is obligated to defend the Philippines under a mutual defense treaty.

The powerful Group of Seven (G7) composed of the United States, Japan, France, Germany, Canada, Britain and Italy called out China for its “increasing use” of dangerous maneuvers and water cannons against Filipino vessels as it reiterated its opposition to Chinese “intimidation activities” in the South China Sea.

 Following the G7 statement, the US renewed a warning that it’s obligated to defend the Philippines.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Kurt Campbell discussed China’s actions with Philippine counterpart, Maria Theresa Lazaro, in a telephone call. Both agreed that China’s “dangerous actions threatened regional peace and stability,” State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said.

Campbell reaffirmed that the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty, which obligates Washington and Manila to help defend the other in major conflicts, “extends to armed attacks on Philippine armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft – including those of its coast guard – anywhere in the South China Sea,” according to Miller.

In a post on X, Washington’s ambassador to Manila MaryKay Carlson said the US condemned China’s “aggressive, dangerous maneuvers,” which “caused bodily injury” and “damaged Philippine vessels.”

 Philippine President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. earlier  warned that the death of any Filipino citizen at the hands of another country in the South China Sea would be “very close” to an act of war.

Philippine Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. said that his country’s armed forces would resist “China’s dangerous and reckless behavior,” which “contravenes their statements of good faith and decency.”

“We will exert our utmost in order to fulfill our sworn mandate to protect our territorial integrity, sovereignty, and sovereign rights,” Teodoro said. “It should now be clear to the international community that China’s actions are the true obstacles to peace and stability in the South China Sea.”

In a communiqué following the G7 Summit in Apulia, Italy, the leaders of the powerful economic grouping raised concerns about the situation in the East and South China Seas, reiterating their “strong opposition to any unilateral attempt to change the status quo by force or coercion.”

“We continue opposing China’s dangerous use of coast guard and maritime militia in the South China Sea and its repeated obstruction of countries’ high seas freedom of navigation,” they said in the statement.

“We express serious concern about the increasing use of dangerous maneuvers and water cannons against Philippine vessels,” the group added.

The G7 leaders at the same time reaffirmed that they do not recognize China’s maritime claims beyond the zones specified by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) by citing the 2016 Arbitral Ruling on the South China Sea.

“In this regard, we reaffirm that there is no legal basis for China’s expansive maritime claims in the South China Sea, and we oppose China’s militarization, and coercive and intimidation activities in the South China Sea,” they added.

“We re-emphasize the universal and unified character of the UNCLOS and reaffirm UNCLOS’s important role in setting out the legal framework that governs all activities in the oceans and the seas,” the group said.

They noted that the 2016 Arbitral Award is “legally binding upon the parties to those proceedings,” and could serve as a “useful basis for peacefully resolving” maritime disputes.

Following the G7 warning, seven soldiers, including one who had his finger cut off, were hurt and weapons were seized in China’s aggressive action against Filipino personnel performing rotation and resupply mission in Ayungin Shoal on Monday, June 17.

Sources said the soldiers were hurt in a melee with Chinese personnel. Aside from that, eight high-powered firearms were also seized and rigid hull inflatable boat (RHIB) were punctured. 

The AFP had deployed six vessels from different entry points for the resupply mission but none reached Ayungin Shoal due to China’s aggressive actions.

This developed as the  Philippines, Japan, the United States, and Canada carried out a joint maritime multilateral drills in the West Philippine Sea, according to Armed Forces of the Philippines Public Affairs Office chief Colonel  Xerxes Trinidad who said the maritime activity took place on Sunday, June 16,  within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

The United States earlier condemned what it called China’s “aggressive, dangerous maneuvers near Ayungin Shoal,” saying it caused bodily injury and damaged Philippine vessels.

In a statement on X, US Ambassador to the Philippines MaryKay Carlson said, “The US condemns the PRC’s aggressive, dangerous maneuvers near Ayungin Shoal, which caused bodily injury, damaged Philippine vessels, and hindered lawful maritime operations to supply food, water, and essential supplies to personnel within the exclusive economic zone.

Meanwhile,  Japanese Ambassador to the Philippines Endo Kazuya reaffirmed Tokyo’s  commitment ”to strengthen regional and international cooperation to  realize a ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP).”’

Also on X, the ambassadors of France, Japan, the Netherlands, and the European Union expressed deep concern about the latest incident.

French Ambassador Marie Fontanel reiterated France’s call for respect of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and freedom of navigation.

“We oppose any threat or use of force contrary to international law and recall the importance of resolving disputes through dialogue,” she said.

Japanese Ambassador Kazuya Endo said Japan stands with Manila and would cooperate with like-minded countries in “maintaining and enhancing the free and open international order based on the rule of law”.

Dutch Ambassador Marielle Geraedts said, “Irresponsible maneuvers that endanger the safety of ships and crews call into question the freedom of sea routes guaranteed under international law.”

“(The Netherlands) considers it of utmost importance that the 2016 arbitral award is fully respected and implemented,” she said.

EU Ambassador Luc Veron echoed the same concern and took note that China’s activities have caused harm and damaged Filipino vessels within the Philippine exclusive economic zone.

“The EU opposes coercion and intimidation in the South China Sea, or anywhere. We support international law and peaceful dispute resolution,” he said.

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