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Philippine Soldiers Clash With Chinese Coast Guard In South China Sea

20.06.2024 00:42

Chinese coast guard personnel tow away resupply vessel as Manila vows not to leave disputed shoal.

Philippine soldiers used their "bare hands" to fight off China Coast Guard personnel armed with spears, knives and swords in a clash in the disputed South China Sea, the Philippines' top military commander said Wednesday.

Armed Forces Chief Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr. was referring to an incident on Monday when the Chinese coast guard blocked one of the Philippine Navy's rigid hull inflatable boats (RHIB) near Second Thomas Shoal, also known as the Ayungin Shoal, a submerged reef in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, searched it and seized firearms and equipment.

Tensions between China and the Philippines have sharply escalated amid

counterclaims over the shoal, which is located in one of the world's most important waterways.

The boat belonged to the Philippine Armed Forces (AFP) and was on its way to resupply the BRP Sierra Madre, a rusting World War II-era vessel that became beached on Second Thomas Shoal in 1999 and has remained there ever since, serving as an outpost for the Philippine military.

The RHIB was moored alongside the BRP Sierra Madre when the incident occurred.

On Wednesday, the Philippine military released a video of the incident, saying the Chinese coast guard attacked the soldiers with "knives and other pointed tools" and used blaring sirens and strobe lights to disorient them.

Manila usually sends resupply missions in civilian boats through the Philippine Coast Guard, but Monday's mission was carried out by the AFP.

"The good thing is that we fought. The Chinese coast guard personnel had bladed weapons, and our personnel fought with their bare hands. That is what's important. We were outnumbered and their weapons were unexpected, but our personnel fought with everything they had," Brawner Jr. told soldiers at the headquarters of the Western Command in Palawan province.

"This is the first time that we saw the Chinese coast guard carry bolos (a type of single-edged sword), spears and knives. Our troops had none of those," he added.

Rear Admiral Alfonso Torres, Jr., who heads the Western Command, confirmed reports that the Chinese coast guard had seized seven firearms from the Philippine soldiers.

The firearms were inside gun cases and were not used during the resupply mission, he said.

Brawner Jr. said "we have arms, but we did not use those. We don't want to start a war."

'Tear gas, sirens used to disrupt communication'

The AFP said the Chinese coast guard personnel attached ropes to tow the RHIB while threatening to injure an AFP soldier with a pickaxe.

"They also employed blaring sirens to create chaos, disrupt communication and divert the attention of AFP troops, exacerbating the hostile and dangerous situation," it added.

It said the Chinese coast guard "deployed tear gas, intensifying the chaos and confusion."

At least eight Philippine soldiers were injured during the incident, including one whose thumb was cut off.

The Philippine military said the Chinese coast guard also "hurled rocks and other objects at our personnel."

"They also slashed the RHIBs, rendering them inoperable," the AFP said, pointing out that a Chinese military aircraft was hovering over the area where the incident happened.

Later, the Chinese coast guard "forcibly surrounded, dragged and eventually towed" the RHIB away from the BRP Sierra Madre "with the intention to isolate it from the rest of the Philippine troops," said the AFP.

"In an act of piracy, Chinese coast guard personnel proceeded to loot supplies, pilfer equipment and ultimately destroy the RHIB, rendering it immobile," said the statement.

Brawner Jr., however, said resupply missions to the warship will continue.

"That is our obligation and that is our right. We will not leave Ayungin Shoal," he added.

China wants the Philippines to tow away its warship from the disputed waters and has of late accused the Philippines of supplying construction material to the site.

Soon after Monday's incident, the Chinese coast guard said its personnel "blocked, boarded and searched" the Philippine vessel, which had intruded into waters near the shoal.

Its personnel expelled the Philippine vessel from the disputed waters, where it "attempted to send materials to its illegally grounded warship," it said.

It marked the first time the Chinese coast guard had boarded and towed away a Philippine vessel since it implemented new rules of engagement in the vast disputed sea last Saturday.

Under the new guidelines, China can detain suspected trespassers for up to 60 days. -

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