Philippines eyes China talks after violent clash in West Philippine Sea

Agence France-Presse
Philippines eyes China talks after violent clash in West Philippine Sea
Philippines' Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo speaks during the opening of the Australia-ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) summit in Melbourne on March 4, 2024.
AFP / William West

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines is eyeing talks with China to discuss a violent clash last week between their sailors in the West Philippine Sea, Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo said Tuesday.

Chinese coast guard personnel wielding knives, sticks and an axe foiled a June 17 Filipino navy attempt to resupply marines stationed on a derelict warship that sits atop Second Thomas Shoal.

It was the latest and most serious incident in a series of escalating confrontations between Chinese and Philippine ships in recent months as Beijing steps up efforts to push its claims to nearly all of the strategically located waterway.

Manila hopes to convene the Philippines-China Bilateral Consultation Mechanism on the South China Sea in early July "specifically to discuss the recent incidents," Manalo told a Philippine senate public hearing on the confrontation.

"We still believe in the primacy of dialogue, and diplomacy should prevail even in the face of these serious incidents, though I admit it's also a challenge," Manalo said.

A Filipino soldier lost a finger in the clash, with Manila also accusing the Chinese coast guard of looting guns and damaging three boats as well as navigational and communication equipment.

Beijing insisted its coast guard behaved in a "professional and restrained" way and blamed Manila for the clash.

In previous confrontations, Chinese forces have used water cannon and military-grade lasers and collided with Filipino resupply vessels and their escorts.

The two countries launched the consultative mechanism in 2017 to promote the peaceful management of conflicts in the South China Sea.

Manalo said the proposed July meeting will look to establish "confidence-building measures" that can create the basis for "more serious discussions".

The two sides convened a working group last week to prepare for the meeting, Manalo said.

Following the clash, Manalo said his office had approached China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and embassy in the country.

"We sternly communicated to our counterparts that (it) was really incomprehensible how the delivery of basic necessities to our troops... could be considered a provocation that would justify an increased level of Chinese actions," he said.

Beijing claims almost the entirety of the South China Sea, brushing aside competing claims from several Southeast Asian nations including the Philippines and an international ruling that its stance has no legal basis.

Second Thomas Shoal lies about 200 kilometres (120 miles) from the western Philippine island of Palawan and more than 1,000 kilometres from China's nearest major landmass, Hainan island.

China deploys coast guard and other boats to patrol the waters around the shoal and has turned several reefs into artificial militarised islands.

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