Philippines has not sought US resupply support in China dispute -ambassador

FILE PHOTO: Aerial view of the contested Second Thomas Shoal in the South China Sea

By Michael Martina

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Philippines has not asked the United States for support in resupplying its troops in a stand-off with China in the disputed South China Sea, its Washington ambassador said on Wednesday, adding that the U.S. was providing only "visuals" to aid his country.

Manila has complained that the Chinese Coast Guard used "aggressive and illegal force" last week to disrupt a resupply mission for Filipino troops stationed on a rusting warship grounded on the Second Thomas Shoal, part of an escalating territorial row with the Philippines, which has a long-standing defense treaty with the United States.

Ambassador Jose Manuel Romualdez told reporters Manila's patience was being stretched by China's actions, but it was hoping for talks to deescalate tensions with Beijing as soon as July, and did not want to invoke the U.S. treaty.

"We would like to be able to supply our soldiers on our own without really bringing in any third party because, as I said, this is our territory, which we've made very clear from the very beginning. And so, we have not asked the United States for any assistance whatsoever," Romualdez said.

He said the U.S. only was providing "visuals" to help view the situation around the ship.

The Philippines said a sailor was severely injured and vessels damaged in the clash last week. China's Coast Guard personnel carrying knives and spears looted firearms and "deliberately punctured" Philippine boats involved in the mission, the Philippines military said.

China disputed the Philippine account, saying necessary measures taken were lawful, professional and beyond reproach.

Romualdez said the Philippines had sought a meeting with Chinese officials to lower tensions, not resolve territorial claims, and hoped it would occur "maybe early next month."

Philippines Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo told a Senate hearing in Manila on Tuesday the Philippines is committed to working with China to develop "confidence building measures" to manage tensions in the South China Sea.

Philippines media quoted Manalo as saying that the countries held a working group meeting last week in preparation for a potential Bilateral Consultation Mechanism meeting in July.

Romualdez said that if the Philippines was not able to resupply its troops, it would amount to "killing our soldiers" through starvation and thirst.

"I don't think China wants to have a major conflict. And definitely we do not want to have one. And so, that's a good starting point," he said.

(Reporting by Michael Martina and David Brunnstrom; Editing by Sandra Maler)