Philippines accuses China of using 'illegal force' to deliberately disrupt resupply mission

FILE PHOTO: A Philippine flutters on BRP Sierra Madre, a dilapidated Philippine Navy ship that has been aground since 1999, on the disputed Second Thomas Shoal, part of the Spratly Islands, in the South China Sea

MANILA (Reuters) -The Philippines' defence chief said China used "aggressive and illegal force" to disrupt a resupply mission in the South China Sea and said last week's maritime incident, which injured a sailor, was neither a misunderstanding nor an accident.

"We are not downplaying the incident," Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro told a media briefing after the chairman of the Philippine maritime council said on Friday that last week's maritime clash was probably a misunderstanding or an accident.

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 on June 17.

Chinese Coast Guard personnel carrying knives and spears looted firearms and "deliberately punctured" Philippine boats involved in the mission, the Philippine military said.

China's foreign ministry has disputed the Philippines' account, with a spokesperson saying last Thursday that the necessary measures taken by the coast guard were lawful and professional.

"We see the latest incident in Ayungin not as a misunderstanding or an accident. It is a deliberate act of the Chinese officialdom to prevent us from completing our mission," Teodoro said, using the local name for the Second Thomas Shoal.

"It was an aggressive and illegal use of force. We, however, continue to find peaceful solutions to this issue," Teodoro said.

Teodoro said the Philippines will continue to resupply its troops stationed on a rusting warship grounded on Second Thomas Shoal, but it will not publicise schedules of missions, which he said do not require permission or consent from anyone.

In response to Teodoro's remarks, the Chinese foreign ministry said on Monday that the Philippines "should stop its infringement and provocation" and "work with China to safeguard peace and stability in the South China Sea".

It also urged Manila to stop "violations" and "misleading the international community."

President Ferdinand Marcos said on Sunday that the Philippines was not in the business of instigating wars and would always aim to settle disputes peacefully.

The Second Thomas Shoal is inside the Philippines' exclusive economic zone.

China claims almost the entire South China Sea with its so-called nine-dash line, which overlaps the exclusive economic zones of rival claimants Brunei, Malaysia, Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.

A 2016 arbitral tribunal ruling, which Beijing does not recognise, invalidated China's claim in the strategic waters.

(Reporting by Neil Jerome Morales and Karen Lema; Additional reporting by Beijing NewsroomEditing by Ed Davies and John Mair)