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Philippines did not consider invoking US pact over South China Sea clash


FILE - An aerial view shows the BRP Sierra Madre on the contested Second Thomas Shoal, locally known as Ayungin, in the South China Sea, March 9, 2023.
FILE - An aerial view shows the BRP Sierra Madre on the contested Second Thomas Shoal, locally known as Ayungin, in the South China Sea, March 9, 2023.

The Philippines says it did not consider a confrontation with China’s coast guard in the South China Sea earlier this week that saw one sailor lose a thumb as an armed attack or a reason to invoke a 1951 mutual defense treaty with the United States.

The incident resulted in “serious injuries” for a Philippine navy sailor from what the Philippine military called an “intentional-high speed ramming” by the Chinese coastal guard. The Philippine military also said the Chinese coast guard confiscated or destroyed Philippine equipment.

In the wake of the clash on Monday, Manila released video footage that showed Chinese coast guard sailors with knives, an axe and other weapons as they attempted to stop a resupply mission for an outpost on Second Thomas Shoal in the Spratly Islands. Philippine authorities say a sailor a lost thumb during the confrontation.

China’s foreign ministry has disputed the Philippine account of the incident, claiming that the necessary measures taken were lawful, professional, and beyond reproach.

On Friday, Philippine Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin told reporters the incident “was probably a misunderstanding or an accident" and that the matter could be easily resolved if China wants to work with them.

Bersamin, who also chairs the national maritime council, added that the Philippines is “not yet ready to classify this as an armed attack.”

According to the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty, the United States is obligated to help defend the Philippines during major conflicts.

Earlier this week, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Kurt Campbell explained that the treaty, “extends to armed attacks on Philippine armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft — including those of its coast guard — anywhere in the South China Sea,” according to Matthew Miller spokesperson at the U.S. State Department.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken had a call with Philippines' foreign minister on Wednesday, where he emphasized “the United States' ironclad commitments to the Philippines under the Mutual Defense Treaty.”

Moving forward, the Philippine national maritime council has advised President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to schedule resupply missions to the disputed shoal regularly. The council also advised Manila to publish the missions in advance with hopes that China will act in a more restrained manner.

Vietnam, who like China, also has overlapping claims to parts of the South China Sea, said it is ready to hold talks with Philippines over the contested area, according to official Vietnamese media reports on Friday.

Vietnam "stays ready to discuss with the Philippines to seek and achieve a solution that is mutually beneficial for both countries," said Vietnam Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesperson Pham Thu Hang on Thursday.

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