Philippines to boost diplomacy and defence capability as South China Sea 'countermeasures'

MANILA (Reuters) - Countermeasures by the Philippines to China's conduct in the South China Sea will entail strengthening its defence capabilities with allies and exhausting all diplomatic measures to resolve disputes, a security official said on Monday.

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr last week said the Philippines would implement unspecified measures against "illegal, coercive, aggressive, and dangerous attacks" by China's coastguard, upping the stakes in an escalating row in the South China Sea.

"The proportionate, deliberate and reasonable response the president was talking about covered not only the aspect of strengthening military and defence capabilities with other allies ...but it also talks about exhausting diplomatic efforts to resolve the issue," National Security Council spokesperson Jonathan Malaya said on state TV, describing the package as multi-dimensional.

Marcos also ordered his government to strengthen its coordination on maritime security to confront "a range of serious challenges" to territorial integrity and peace, according to a copy of the directive released on Sunday.

China's foreign ministry on Monday said regardless of what policies the Philippines rolls out, none would affect China's maritime rights of sovereignty claims.

China claims almost the entire South China Sea as its territory, policed by an armada of coastguard vessels, some more than 1,000 km away from its mainland.

The Philippines and China have had a series run-ins at sea in the past year over disputed maritime features, coinciding with Manila ramping up defence engagements with ally and former colonial power the United States.

The latest flare-up occurred on March 24, when China used water cannon to disrupt a Philippine resupply mission to the Second Thomas Shoal for soldiers guarding a warship intentionally grounded on a reef 25 years ago.

Defence officials traded barbs late last week, with China saying the Philippines was to blame for the breakdown of relations, accusing its neighbor of provocations, misinformation and treachery.

The Philippines responded, accusing China of being patronising and intimidating smaller countries.

(Reporting by Karen Lema; Editing by Martin Petty)