Philippine Military Demands Return Equipment of Seized by China During Maritime Clash

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Philippine Military Demands Return Equipment of Seized by China During Maritime Clash

The Philippine military has also released video footage of Monday’s incident in the South China Sea, which injured eight Filipino sailors, one seriously.

Philippine Military Demands Return Equipment of Seized by China During Maritime Clash
Credit: Photo 235428460 © OnePixelStudio |

The head of the Philippine armed forces has demanded that China return firearms and other equipment seized by the China Coast Guard (CCG) during a violent confrontation at a disputed shoal in the South China Sea this week, which the military described as an “act of piracy.”

The incident occurred on Monday, when Chinese vessels forcefully blocked a Philippine resupply mission to the Second Thomas Shoal in the Spratly Islands. During the operation, Chinese personnel on board motorboats repeatedly rammed and then boarded two Philippine navy rigid-hulled inflatable boats in order to prevent Filipino personnel from transferring supplies, including firearms, to the BRP Sierra Madre, a grounded warship that functions as Manila’s outpost at the shoal.

“We are demanding that the Chinese return our rifles and our equipment and we’re also demanding that they pay for the damage they caused,” Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr., head of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), said in a news conference on Palawan island. “They boarded our boats illegally and seized our equipment,” Brawner said. “They’re now like pirates with this kind of actions.”

During the news conference, Brawner pinned a medal on a navy officer who was wounded in the assault.

As The Associated Press reported, citing two Philippine security officials, the Chinese “seized the boats and damaged them with machetes, knives, and hammers.” The Chinese personnel also seized eight M4 rifles, which were packed in cases awaiting delivery to the marines aboard the Sierra Madre, in addition to navigation equipment and other supplies. Confirming local media reports, the AP also reported that a number of Filipino navy personnel were wounded in the melee, including one who lost his right thumb.

In a statement yesterday, the AFP confirmed most of these reports in a statement that offered more details of the incident than were offered in previous Philippine statements. Describing the incident as a “brazen act of aggression,” he said that the Chinese forces deployed “physical attacks, bladed weapons, blaring sirens, and blinding strobe lights” in order to disrupt the resupply mission.

It said that CCG  “swarmed” the Philippine RHIBs, which were already moored alongside the Sierra Madre, “escalating their aggression by wielding pointed weapons and explicitly threatening to harm Filipino troops.” It also alleged that one of the RHIBs “was forcibly surrounded, dragged, and eventually towed away… In an act of piracy, CCG personnel proceeded to loot supplies, pilfer equipment, and ultimately destroy the RHIB rendering it immobile.”

Alongside its statement, the AFP released a series of videos of the confrontation, which bring across its chaotic nature. In one video, Chinese forces in CCG speedboats can be seen shouting, while Philippine forces stand their ground, one of them waving what appears to be a bladed weapon. In another, a Philippine sailor appears to be treating a wounded comrade. A third video, seemingly shot from the decks of the Sierra Madre, shows the “swarming” of the two Philippine RHIBs, which Chinese personnel can be seen slashing with a blade.

Repeating an earlier CCG statement about the incident, China’s government blamed the Philippines for the confrontation, saying that its personnel “trespassed” into the shoal in defiance of its warnings.

“This is the direct cause of the incident,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lin Jian said in Beijing, the AP reported. He added that the CCG “has taken professional law-enforcement measures with restraint aimed at stopping the illegal supply mission by the Philippine vessels and no direct measures were taken against the Philippine personnel.”

Over the past year, China has made repeated attempts to prevent the resupply of the Philippine forces on Second Thomas Shoal. These attempts have grown gradually more forceful, involving the ramming of Philippine Coast Guard ships and the use of high-powered water cannons against Philippine vessels. Last month, the CCG harassed Philippine service members being medically evacuated and seized airdropped provisions, dueling in close proximity to Philippine RHIBs.

This week’s confrontation, the first in which Philippine and Chinese forces have come to direct physical blows, marks a further step up the ladder of escalation. Since 2019, U.S. officials have repeatedly assured Manila that an armed attack on any Philippines armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft in the South China Sea will oblige it to come to the Philippines’ aid under Article IV of the two nations’ Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) – a warning that it repeated in response to this week’s incident.

Some would argue that Monday’s incident constituted an attack on a Philippine vessel within waters recognized as belonging to the Philippines under international law, and therefore should trigger the MDT. What is certain is that recent Chinese actions are moving both countries ever closer to this blurry line.