Beijing demands that the United States withdraw from the Sino-Philippine dispute in the South China Sea

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The Philippines on Thursday hit back at China following a violent standoff in the South China Sea over the weekend in an incident that included the use of water cannons by the Chinese Coast Guard, telling Beijing that “Filipinos do not surrender.”

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said that after meeting with senior Philippine defense and security officials, Manila's response will be “proportionate, deliberate and reasonable in the face of open, sustained, unlawful, coercive, aggressive and dangerous attacks by agents.” “For the Chinese Coast Guard and the Chinese Maritime Militia.”

Marcos did not go into any detail about the steps his government will take moving forward.

Chinese Coast Guard ships fire water cannons towards the Philippine resupply ship Unayzah on May 4 en route to a resupply mission at Second Thomas Shoal in the South China Sea, March 5, 2024. REUTERS/Adrian Portugal (Reuters/Adrian Portugal)

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The Philippine President's comments came just days after two Chinese Coast Guard ships directed water cannons at Philippine Navy crew members at close range over a dispute in disputed waters near Second Thomas Shoal.

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Philippine military officials noted that several Filipino crew members were injured, including one who was lifted off the deck and thrown into a wall after being struck by a water cannon, although the impact apparently prevented him from sinking into the sea.

The wooden ship, which was said to be transporting supplies to Marines stationed at an outpost at Second Thomas Shoal, was also damaged.

Confrontations between China and the Philippines have escalated since Manila began repairing the naval vessel BRP Sierra Madre in October 2023, after it had been rusty for more than a quarter of a century.

The Philippines refuses to allow China to remove the Philippine military outpost in disputed shoals

Sierra Madre was grounded by the Philippine Navy in 1997 on a partially submerged reef known as Second Thomas Shoal and served as an outpost for Manila in the South China Sea.

2nd Philippine Navy Thomas Scholl

A Chinese Coast Guard ship patrols near the BRB Sierra Madre, a stranded transport ship that Philippine Marines live on as a military outpost, in the disputed area of ​​Second Thomas Shoal, part of the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea on 30 March 2014. (Reuters/Eric de Castro)

The reef, classified as low tide elevation, meaning it is a naturally formed piece of land above the water during low tide, is located in the Spratly Islands – an area hotly contested by countries such as China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines.

Because the reef is located more than 100 nautical miles from the Philippines' economic exclusion zone and outside any country's territorial waters, it is “not subject to any claim of sovereignty or appropriation by any country under international law,” according to the US Indo-Pacific Command.

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But despite the dilapidated nature of the long-seaworthy ship, the Philippine government reportedly kept Marines stationed on board to claim the disputed territory, according to the U.S. Naval Institute.

Thomas Scholl II Philippines

FILE PHOTO – Philippine Marines wave to Philippine Navy personnel and media during resupply at their military outpost, BRP Sierra Madre, a transport ship stranded in the disputed Second Thomas Shoal, part of the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, March 29, 2014. (Reuters/Eric de Castro)

The United States condemned China's aggressive actions and reminded Beijing that it would defend Manila under the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty if Philippine troops, aircraft and ships were subjected to armed attack.

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Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lin Jian responded to Washington's statements on Thursday and said, “The United States is not a party to the South China Sea issue and is not in a position to interfere in the issues between China and the Philippines.”

He added, “China is determined to preserve our territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests.” He added, “The mutual defense treaty between the United States and the Philippines will not move us one bit from our will and determination.”

The United States and its regional allies, including Japan and Australia, have repeatedly called on Beijing to respect international laws and not change the status quo in the South China Sea.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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