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Galwan-like clashes at sea? Armed Chinese Coast Guard clash with Philippines Naval Guards in South China Sea, seizes weapons and equipment

Filipino military chief General Romeo Brawner noted that it was the first time Chinese Coast Guards were seen carrying spears, knives, and bolos – a type of single-edged sword.

A major Galwan-like violent confrontation took place in the South China Sea between the armed Chinese Navy and ‘unarmed’ Filipino Naval guards. The clashes occurred on Monday (17th June) near the Second Thomas Shoal, a major flashpoint in the disputed South China Sea. Notably, on Wednesday (19th June), the Philippine military charged China with “piracy” and stealing the firearms and equipment of its Naval guards. It demanded reparations from the Chinese side for the damages as well as the return of its seized weapons and equipment. 

The military officials said that the Chinese coast guard rammed and boarded Filipino navy boats in a violent confrontation in which a Filipino sailor lost a thumb. Philippine officials said, “At least seven other Philippine sailors were also injured. Chinese ships later towed away two Philippine rubber dinghies after emptying them of their contents.”

The official added that they have videos of the Chinese threatening Filipino personnel with knives.

Filipino military chief General Romeo Brawner noted that it was the first time Chinese Coast Guards were seen carrying spears, knives, and bolos – a type of single-edged sword. He added that the Filipino troops did not have weapons on hand as their guns were disassembled and were in cases. The officials asserted that the Filipino crew on boats were under orders not to display their weapons.

After visiting the injured sailor in Palawan, Brawner said that Filipino personnel had “fought back with our bare hands” even after they were “outnumbered” by the eight-boat Chinese coast guard contingent. 

Brawner said, “Despite this, our troops fought with their bare hands to push them away. They were preventing the Chinese Coast Guard from hitting them with their bolos, machetes, and other bladed weapons. I want to remove the impression that our soldiers let the CCG just steal and destroy our property.” 

Regarding the Chinese Coast Guard, Brawner stated, “They took guns and other equipment, destroyed our equipment on board including the motors. They punctured our rigid-hulled inflatable boats.” 

“For me, this is piracy already because they boarded our boats illegally, they got our equipment. Their actions were like that of pirates. We are demanding that the Chinese return our rifles and our equipment and we are also demanding from them to pay for the damages that they have caused,” he added. 

What led to the clashes

Incidentally, the 17th June incident was the latest in a series of escalating confrontations between Chinese and Philippine ships in recent months. The development comes after Beijing has been brazenly pushing its claims in this region. 

This incident happened just days after China started enforcing a domestic regulation that authorized its naval forces to detain ‘trespassers’ within its borders, including its expansive, unrecognized maritime claims in the South China Sea. 

The confrontation on Monday occurred when Beijing tried to disrupt a routine Philippine resupply mission at its outpost on the shoal. The commander of the Philippines’ South China Sea forces, Rear Admiral Alfonso Torres said that Monday’s confrontation began when one of the Filipino boats was “illegally rammed” at “high speed” by a Chinese coast guard boat.

Speaking with reporters, he added that seven firearms were looted and forcibly taken by the Chinese coast guard. He said communication and navigation equipment and an outboard motor were destroyed and the mobile phones of the Filipino crew were taken. 

The Philippine military said the seized guns were intended for Filipino troops manning the BRP Sierra Madre warship on the shoal. 

Officials said that a Philippine sailor lost a finger when a Chinese dinghy (small boat) collided with a Philippine dinghy at high speed, hitting his hand that was caught in between the two vessels.

“No direct measures taken against Filipino personnel”: China defends its actions in South China Sea

Following the confrontation at the sea, China defended its actions on Wednesday (19th June) claiming that “no direct measures” were taken against Filipino personnel.

In a regular news briefing in Beijing, foreign ministry spokesman Lin Jian said, “Law enforcement measures taken by the China Coast Guard at the site were professional and restrained”. 

China has deployed Coast Guard and other vessels to patrol the waters around the Second Thomas Shoal and has turned several reefs into artificial militarised islands. In recent months, it has intensified actions against Philippine vessels in the vicinity of the shoal.

(Image Source – Washington Post)

The recent flashpoint, Second Thomas Shoal, is located approximately 200 kilometers from the western Philippine island of Palawan and over 1,000 kilometers from China’s nearest major landmass, Hainan Island. This shoal hosts a small Philippine garrison stationed on a deliberately grounded old warship and has been the site of numerous recent confrontations. Beijing claims nearly the entire South China Sea, disregarding competing claims from several Southeast Asian nations, including the Philippines, as well as an international ruling stating that its claims have no legal basis.

Despite flaring tensions, Philippines Military officials added that the Philippines “wants to prevent war.” 

Meanwhile, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said that the death of a Filipino citizen within the West Philippine Sea could trigger the country’s Mutual Defense Treaty with the U.S., raising the stakes for brewing tensions between Manila and Beijing.

Galwan clash

On June 15, 2020, the Chinese troops had attacked the Indian troops along the LAC near the Ladakh border. The clashes had resulted in India losing 20 of its soldiers. China initially denied facing any casualties in the attack. However, after months of denial, China later acknowledged the loss of at least 5 of its soldiers, although independent reports suggested Beijing lost around 35-40 soldiers in the clashes. 

Strikingly, similar to the South China Sea confrontations, the Chinese soldiers were armed with weapons like barbed wires while the Indian soldiers fought with bare hands and inflicted more casualties on the Chinese side. 

The fallen Indian soldiers were honoured by the government and their last rites were performed in the presence of government representatives, accorded them the due status of martyrs. PM Modi and the COAS had also visited to meet and speak to the injured soldiers. China, on the other hand, went to great lengths to paper over the murky details of clashes lest it trigger a turn of domestic events out of Beijing’s control.

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OpIndia Staff
OpIndia Staff
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