Philippines Says Latest China Clash Won’t Trigger US Treaty

(Bloomberg) -- The Philippines said this week’s clash with China in the South China Sea isn’t an “armed attack” that could trigger a defense treaty with the US, while announcing changes to operations in disputed waters.

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“We are not yet ready to classify this as an armed attack,” Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin said Friday, adding that the June 17 encounter between Chinese and Philippine vessels “was probably a misunderstanding or an accident.”

Manila has accused China Coast Guard of seizing guns, puncturing boats using bladed weapons, and ramming Philippine vessels that led to a Filipino sailor losing his thumb. Beijing has maintained its actions were professional and lawful.

The cabinet official also said that the Southeast Asian nation is set to announce ahead of time when it will resupply a military outpost in the Second Thomas Shoal, which has been the epicenter of Manila’s territorial dispute with Beijing.

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. accepted a maritime council’s recommendation to announce the missions, “which shall remain routinary and will be scheduled regularly,” said Bersamin.

Bersamin also said that China’s lack of prior knowledge about the Philippines’ resupply mission could’ve triggered the recent clash. He added that the Philippines’ move is “in the best interest of all parties” and that the nation will be publicizing the missions’ schedules “without giving up anything.”

The Philippines, under Marcos, has asserted the country’s claims in the South China Sea, where Beijing lays expansive claims. Manila’s pushback has led to frequent confrontations between Chinese and Philippine vessels in the contested waters.

Also on Friday, more than a dozen local business groups released a joint statement saying they “deplore the continued harassment” of the Philippine military and coast guard. “We appeal for unity towards a non-violent resolution that respects our rights as a peace-loving nation,” they said.

(Updates with details throughout.)

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