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Philippine president threatens to take action in response to aggressive Chinese behavior at sea

The Philippine president said Thursday that his government would take action against what he described as dangerous attacks by the Chinese coast guard and suspected militia ships in the contested South China Sea, stating “Filipinos do not give in.”

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine president said on Thursday that his government would respond to what he described as dangerous attacks by the Chinese coast guard and suspected militia ships in the disputed South China Sea, stating “Filipinos do not yield.”

Ferdinand Marcos Jr. did not give specifics about the actions his government would take in the following weeks but stated that they would be “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 Chinese maritime militia.”

“We seek no conflict with any nation,” Marcos wrote on X, formerly Twitter, but said the Philippines would not be “cowed into silence.”

Marcos’s warning demonstrates the increasing tensions between China and the Philippines in the contested waters, leading to minor collisions between the coast guard and vessels of the rival claimant nations, sparking a war of words and straining relations.

China and the Philippines, along with Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Brunei, have overlapping claims in the resource-rich and busy waterway, through which a majority of the world’s commerce and oil transits.

Chinese officials in Manila or Beijing did not immediately respond to Marcos’s public warning, which he issued during Holy Week — one of the most sacred religious periods in the largely Roman Catholic nation.

China’s defense ministry accused the Philippines of escalating the South China Sea disputes by undertaking provocative moves and spreading “misinformation to mislead the international community.”

“It is straying further down a dangerous path,” Senior Col. Wu Qian, the Chinese defense ministry’s top spokesperson, said in a statement issued Thursday by the Chinese Embassy in Manila.

Both China and the Philippines said they were acting to protect their sovereignty. Wu said China remained “committed to properly managing maritime differences,” while Marcos said he had been in touch with international allies who had offered to help the Philippines.

Marcos said he issued his statement after meeting top Philippine defense and national security officials, who submitted their recommendations. These include the use of faster military vessels instead of chartered civilian boats when the Philippine navy delivers a new batch of personnel and supplies to the disputed Second Thomas Shoal, two Philippine security officials said.

The shoal, the site of frequent hostilities since last year, has been occupied by a small Philippine naval contingent but surrounded by the Chinese coast guard and other vessels in a decades-long territorial standoff.

It’s unclear if Marcos approved that recommendation. The two Philippine officials separately spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of a lack of authority to discuss the issue publicly.

In the latest hostilities on Saturday, the Chinese coast guard used water cannons that injured several Philippine navy crewmen and heavily damaged their wooden supply boat near the Second Thomas Shoal. The cannon blast was so strong it threw a crewman off the floor but he hit a wall instead of plunging into the sea, Philippine military officials said.

The government of the Philippines called in a Chinese embassy official in Manila to strongly express their disagreement with China. Beijing accused Philippine boats of entering Chinese territorial waters, warning Manila not to be reckless and saying China would continue to take action to protect its sovereignty.

The U.S. criticized the actions of the Chinese coast guard. In a phone call with Philippine defense chief Gilberto Teodoro Jr. on Wednesday, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin restated a warning that it is required to help the Philippines under a 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty if Philippine forces, aircraft and ships come under attack, including anywhere in the South China Sea, said Pentagon Press Secretary Pat Ryder.

Beijing has told Washington to stay out of what it sees as a purely Asian conflict, but the U.S. has stated it will continue with Navy patrols as it has for over 70 years following international law to help protect freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea.

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