Chinese sailors wieldknives, axe in disputed sea clash with Philippines

Friday, Jun 21, 2024

MANILA: Chinese coast guard sailors brandished knives, an axe and other weapons in a clash with Philippine naval vessels near a strategic reef in the South China Sea, dramatic new footage released by Manila showed.

The clash took place Monday as Philippine forces attempted to resupply marines stationed on a derelict warship that was deliberately grounded atop the disputed Second Thomas Shoal in 1999 to assert Manila’s territorial claims.

It was the latest in a series of escalating confrontations between Chinese and Philippine ships in recent months as Beijing steps up efforts to push its claims to the disputed area.Philippine military chief General Romeo Brawner said the “outnumbered” Filipino crew had been unarmed and had fought with their “bare hands”.

A Filipino sailor lost a thumb in the clash, in which the Chinese coast guard confiscated or destroyed Philippine equipment including guns, according to the Philippine military.Fresh footage released by the Philippine military late Wednesday showed small boats crewed by Chinese sailors shouting, waving knives and using sticks to hit an inflatable boat as a siren blares.

A voice speaking Tagalog can be heard in one clip saying someone had “lost a finger”. Manila’s footage of the clash stands in stark contrast to photos released by Beijing’s state media on Wednesday, which did not show Chinese forces wielding weapons.

Asked about the videos on Thursday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lin Jian said Manila’s comments on the clash were “totally bogus accusations that confuse black with white”.

He blamed the Philippines for the confrontation, saying they had “escalated tensions” and accused them of ramming Chinese boats. Lin said the Philippine boats had been trying “to sneak in building materials, but also tried to smuggle in military equipment”.

Beijing has insisted that its coast guard behaved in a “professional and restrained” way and claimed “no direct measures” were taken against Filipino personnel.But in a clip shared by Manila, a Chinese sailor standing on the deck of one of the boats can clearly be seen waving an axe. Another shows a Chinese coast guard sailor striking the inflatable boat with a stick. A second man can also be seen stabbing the boat with a knife.

The Philippines military said an axe-wielding sailor had “threatened to injure” a Filipino soldier, while others were “explicitly threatening to harm” Filipino troops. “The (Chinese coast guard) personnel then began hurling rocks and other objects at our personnel,” Manila said. “They also slashed the (inflatable boats), rendering them inoperable.”

The Filipino sailors, wearing brown camouflage with helmets and vests, are not carrying weapons in the clips. “Amidst this violent confrontation, the CCG (Chinese coast guard) also deployed tear gas, intensifying the chaos and confusion, while continuously blaring sirens to further disrupt communication,” the caption said.

Manila has accused Beijing of an “act of piracy” against its forces. It has also demanded the return of items “looted” by the Chinese side, including seven guns, and reparations for damaged equipment.