Philippines to implement “countermeasure package” against China’s aggression in South China Sea

In late March this year, Philippine President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr called for the enforcement of a “response and countermeasure package” in wake of China’s continued aggression at the Second Thomas Shoal within the country’s exclusive economic zone in the disputed South China Sea. 

China is claiming almost the entire South China Sea, although the Second Thomas Shoal is located around 200 kilometers (124 miles) from the western Filipino island of Palawan, and over 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) from China’s southern Hainan Island. In 2016, China rejected an international arbitration ruling which stated it has no legal basis for the expansive claims. In recent years, China has constructed artificial islands and military outposts, and mobilized coast guard and maritime militia to assert its claims.

According to a report by Philippine News Agency, Marcos met with security and defense officials after China’s water cannon attack against a Philippine supply boat at Second Thomas Shoal on March 23, known locally as Ayungin Shoal, that wounded three crew members and damaged the boat.

Marcos said he has been in “constant communication” with allies in the international arena. 

“I have given them our requirements and we have been assured that they will be addressed. They have offered to help us on what the Philippines requires to protect and secure our sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction while ensuring peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific.”

Marcos said the countermeasures package would be implemented following China’s “illegal, coercive, aggressive, and dangerous attacks”. 

“We seek no conflict with any nation, more so nations that purport and claim to be our friends but we will not be cowed into silence, submission, or subservience,” Marcos declared. 

“Filipinos do not yield,” he added. 

While Marcos did not divulge the specifics of the countermeasures package, National Security Council spokesperson Jonathan Malaya announced on state TV that the package would be multi-dimensional.

“The proportionate, deliberate and reasonable response the president was talking about covered not only the aspect of strengthening military and defense capabilities with other allies …but it also talks about exhausting diplomatic efforts to resolve the issue.” 

Philippine defense secretary Gilberto Teodoro and his U.S. counterpart Lloyd Austin, in a phone call, “reaffirmed the ironclad U.S. commitment to the Philippines”. Austin emphasized Washington’s commitment to the 1951 mutual defense treaty with the Philippines, and decried China’s behavior at the Second Thomas Shoal as “dangerous”. 

Chinese Defense Ministry spokesperson Wu Qian lambasted the Philippines for worsening bilateral ties, accusing Manila of propagating misinformation and encroaching on China’s sovereignty. 

“It is straying further down a dangerous path. The Chinese side will not allow the Philippines to act willfully,” Wu declared during a briefing. “We have responded with legitimate, resolute and restrained actions. The Philippine side should realize that provocations will only do themselves more harm than good, and soliciting foreign support will lead nowhere.”

When questioned about Marcos pledging countermeasures, Wu warned that Beijing would adopt tactics to defend its sovereignty.

“China firmly opposes the Philippine side’s treachery and provocation, as well as its fabrication of lies to mislead international public opinion,” Wu added. 

China’s Ministry of National Defense, in a March statement, titled “China Will Not Allow the Philippines to Act Willfully”, slammed “the provocations by the Philippine side” for rising hostilities. 

“Relying on the backing of external forces … the Philippine side has frequently infringed on rights and provoked and created trouble at sea, as well as spreading false information to mislead the international community’s perception of the issue, which is, so to speak, going further and further down a dangerous road,” the statement stated. 

From April 22 to May 10, about 17,000 troops as well as observers from 14 nations participated in the annual Philippine-U.S. Balikatan (shoulder-to-shoulder) military exercises. However, China has criticized the military exercises as “deliberate provocations”, which only “stoke tensions” and risk plunging the world into a vortex of division and turbulence. 

Beijing warned against “maritime containment, encirclement and island blockades”, and condemned the increasing collaboration between the Philippines and its Western partners.

Notably, this year’s Balikatan came after a historic Japan-Philippine-U.S. trilateral summit in Washington, where the U.S. president Joe Biden publicly issued a statement warning China not to use force against Philippine vessels lest the U.S. step in.

“As I said before, any attack on Philippine aircraft, vessels, or armed forces in the South China Sea will invoke our Mutual Defense Treaty,” Biden said, pledging direct military intervention should China and the Philippines engage in an armed conflict. 

To stand on a moral high ground to reflect China’s belligerent actions, Marcos on May 6 assured that the Philippines would not employ water cannons in a tit-or-tat move in the South China Sea, declaring that increasing tensions was the last thing Manila wanted to do.  

“We will not follow the Chinese coast guard and Chinese vessels down that road,” Marcos told reporters, as cited by Reuters, elaborating that the goals of the Philippine navy and coast guard are to decrease tensions instead. 

In response, a spokesperson for the Chinese foreign ministry said at a regular press briefing on May 6: “If the Philippines truly wants to de-escalate the situation in the South China Sea, it should immediately stop sending ships … and stop sending supplies to illegally grounded ships.”

Photo credit: iStock/ Kachura Oleg

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