China coast guard personnel a "band of barbarians", says Philippine navy official

By Karen Lema

MANILA (Reuters) - China's coast guard personnel acted like a "band of barbarians" during a Philippine resupply mission to a contested shoal in the South China Sea this week that led to injuries and damage to vessels, a senior navy official said on Thursday.

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

China's Coast Guard personnel, which Philippine military officials said were carrying knives and spears, looted firearms and "deliberately punctured" Philippine boats involved in the mission.

"We were unprepared for that kind of response," Philippine navy spokesperson Roy Trinidad said in a phone interview on Thursday. "We stuck with the rules of engagement. They were not allowed to use guns except for self defence."

Trinidad said China's "illegal, aggressive and deceptive" actions raises the risk of miscalculation at sea.

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

"The Philippine ships not only carry building materials, they also smuggled weapons and equipment and deliberately rammed Chinese ships," said ministry spokesperson Lin Jian.

"Non-personnel have also splashed water and thrown objects at Chinese law enforcement officers, which has obviously aggravated the tense situation at sea, seriously threatening the safety of Chinese personnel and vessels," Lin told a regular press briefing.

Encounters between the Philippines and China, which claims most of the South China Sea, have grown more tense and frequent over the past year as Beijing pressed its claims and Manila refused to cease its resupply mission. China considers such missions to be illegal intrusions and has tried to repel the vessels.

"Our approach is above board. But what they were doing is piracy...barbaric. I call them a band of barbarians. They have no right to wear the uniform, coast guards men are supposed to be responsible for safety of life at sea (but) their actions endanger life at sea," Trinidad said in separate comments to reporters.

"It does not speak well of a country that wants to be a global power," Trinidad added.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday held a call with Philippine Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo to discuss China's actions in the South China Sea, which Washington, Britain and Canada have condemned.

(Reporting by Karen Lema; Editing by John Mair, Ed Davies)