Philippines Says June 17 Sea Clash a ‘Deliberate Act’ by China

(Bloomberg) -- The Philippines said last week’s encounter with China in the disputed South China Sea where a Filipino soldier lost a finger was a “deliberate act” by Beijing.

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Manila has “come to a conclusion that it was not a misunderstanding or an accident,” Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro told a briefing Monday, a day after he and President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. visited troops of the Western Command that oversees the contested waters.

“We are not downplaying the incident. It was an aggressive and illegal use of force,” he said, adding the Southeast Asian nation’s policy of asserting its territorial claims in the South China Sea hasn’t changed.

Teodoro said the Philippines will not be publishing schedules on when it will be sending resupply missions to its military outpost in Second Thomas Shoal. That’s in contrast to a statement by Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin on Friday, which Teodoro said was only a recommendation.

The defense chief’s latest comments show how the Philippines wants to put China to task over the June 17 clash when Manila said Chinese coast guard crew used bladed weapons to puncture boats, seized guns and rammed Philippine vessels that led to a Filipino sailor losing his thumb.

“We, however, continue to find peaceful solutions to this issue. The Philippines is a responsible state,” Teodoro said.

Responding to Teodoro’s remarks, China reiterated that Second Thomas Shoal is its territory.

The Philippines “should go back on the track of negotiating with China and safeguard the peace and stability in the South China Sea,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said at a regular press briefing in Beijing on Monday.

Marcos said Sunday that the nation would not resort to force or intimidation in the contested waters following the June 17 clash, and is “not in the business to instigate wars.”

“We will continue to exercise our freedoms and rights in support of our national interest, in accordance with international law,” Teodoro said.

National Security Adviser Eduardo Ano told reporters that the latest clash between Philippine and Chinese vessels could not be classified as an “armed attack” that could trigger Manila’s defense treaty with the US. By definition, an armed attack “is the use of military force, an excessive use of force that could trigger collective self defense,” Ano said.

The US State Department last week called out Beijing’s “escalatory actions” in the disputed waterway with the Philippine military releasing videos of what it called as China’s “brutal assault.”

--With assistance from Cecilia Yap and Philip Glamann.

(Updates with details throughout.)

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