MANILA (Reuters): The Philippines on Monday called the actions of Chinese vessels against its boats - including one carrying a senior Philippine military official - carrying out South China Sea resupply missions over the weekend a "serious escalation".
Manila has accused the Chinese coast guard and maritime militia of repeatedly firing water cannons at its resupply boats, causing "serious engine damage" to one, and "deliberately" ramming another. Philippine Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces Romeo Brawner said he was onboard a vessel that was both sprayed with a water cannon and rammed.
"This is a serious escalation on the part of the agents of the People's Republic of China," Jonathan Malaya, spokesperson of the National Security Council, said in a news conference where officials showed images and videos of both the water cannons and ramming.
Brawner told Philippine radio station DZBB that he was unhurt by the water cannon incident and that he does not believe China knew he was onboard the boat.
The Philippines has filed diplomatic protests and has summoned China's ambassador over its "aggressive" actions in the South China Sea, which a foreign ministry official said were a "threat to peace, good order and security,"
China's use of water cannons against Philippine vessels undertaking resupply missions for troops on features Manila occupies in the South China Sea was not the first time it has done so.
The maritime confrontation between the Philippines and China during the weekend comes less than a month after leaders of both nations met at the sidelines of an economic summit in San Francisco to formulate ways forward in the South China Sea.
"There is a dissonance between what is being said and promised with what's happening in the waters," Foreign Ministry spokesperson Teresita Daza said in the same briefing.
Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has increasingly complained about China's "aggressive" behaviour, and he has sought closer ties with its treaty ally the United States.
China claims sovereignty over nearly the entire South China Sea, pointing to a line on its maps that cuts into the exclusive economic zones of Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia. Taiwan, which China also claims as part of its territory, has said it does not accept Beijing's maps.
The Permanent Court of Arbitration in 2016 said the line on China's maps had no legal basis, a ruling the United States supports, but Beijing rejects.
The United States has called out China for interfering in the Philippines' maritime operations and undermining regional stability, and urged Beijing to stop "its dangerous and destabilising conduct" in the strategic waters.
It reaffirmed its commitment to the mutual defence pact between the two countries, Matthew Miller, State Department Spokesperson said in a Dec. 10 statement.
A commentary piece in China's official military newspaper urged the Philippines to immediately stop its violations, strictly control its provocative actions, and "refrain from shooting itself in the foot".
It added that "some hegemonic countries" have resorted to "instigating trouble, creating division and inciting confrontation" in the South China Sea, and that those countries "openly endorsed" illegal infringement and provocation by the Philippines.
"It must be pointed out that the Philippines' actions are closely connected to the instigation and abetment of external forces," the PLA Daily said, without naming any country or government.
Malaya said China's claims that the United States is fuelling the Philippines' audacity for provocation have no basis and reiterated that the United States was not involved in resupply missions.
During the weekend, the Chinese coast guard said China would continue to carry out "law-enforcement activities" in its waters.
Marcos said that the presence of Chinese coast guard vessels and maritime militia in his country's waters is illegal and that their actions against Filipinos are outright violations of international law.
"The aggression and provocations perpetrated by the China Coast Guard and their Chinese Maritime Militia... have only further steeled our determination to defend and protect our nation's sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction in the West Philippine Sea," Marcos said on platform X late Sunday.
Manila refers to the part of the South China Sea that it has exclusive economic rights as the West Philippine Sea. (Reporting by Neil Jerome Morales and Mikhail Flores, and Liz Lee in Beijing; Editing by Kanupriya Kapoor and Gerry Doyle)