Filipinos Doubt US Reliability As Marcos Deescalates

(MENAFN- Asia Times) The near-fatal showdown between Chinese and Philippine maritime forces in the South China Sea last week raised fears of unwanted escalation in the disputed waters.

A Filipino serviceman suffered physical injury after a large contingent of Chinese forces collided with and then forcibly boarded and disarmed personnel aboard a Philippine resupply mission en route to the hotly-contested Second Thomas Shoal.

Had Filipino naval troops resisted China's latest aggressive action, the situation certainly would have turned far more violent and potentially fatal, reminiscent of hand-to-hand combat between Chinese and Indian troops at the disputed borders in the Himalayas.

Washington, which has a Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) with the Philippines, was quick to condemn the latest incident. In a statement, the US State Department condemned what it called“escalatory and irresponsible” actions by Chinese forces and, crucially, reiterated its defense obligations to the Philippines in an event of armed attack on Philippine troops and public vessels in the South China Sea.

Philippine authorities publicly lashed out at China's“coercive, aggressive and barbaric actions” – but were quick to de-escalate tensions by maintaining that the latest incident did not constitute an“armed attack” but instead was the product of a possible“misunderstanding or accident.”

“Well, you know this was probably a misunderstanding or an accident. We're not yet ready to classify this as an armed attack,” said Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin in a press conference hastily-organized last Friday. Bersamin, who leads the National Maritime Council (NMC), which coordinate interagency responses to crises in the South China Sea, was quick to shut down any speculation over the possible invocation of the MDT.

The Filipino official also extended an olive branch to Beijing by reiterating its commitment to a diplomatic resolution of the dispute.“I think this is a matter that can easily be resolved very soon by us,” Bersamin said.“And if China wants to work with us, we can work with China.” The Philippine government's muted response met with criticism and outrage across the country.


Asia Times

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