A violent clash between Chinese and Philippine forces at the Second Thomas Shoal leaves 8 Filipinos injured. US and Philippines brace for potential war as China adopts aggressive new laws. President Marcos warns of dire consequences.

Regional stability in Southeast Asia and indeed across the world may be threatened by the tinderbox which has been cast on the Second Thomas Shoal, 220 km off the Philippines coast. On Monday, Philippine naval personnel and Chinese forces fought a pitched battle with Chinese boats threatening a Philippine mission with axes, daggers, and truncheons. In the midst of the violent and chaotic melee, eight Philippine personnel were injured. A marine had his thumb severed when his craft was rammed by a Chinese coast guard vessel. The more aggressive posture followed Beijing’s announcement on Saturday of new laws allowing its forces to fire upon and detain foreign personnel in its waters. In turn, this followed a warning from President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. of the Philippines in early June in Singapore.

Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. warned in early June in Singapore that the death of a Filipino armed forces member would, in all probability, lead to war with China. Nevertheless, the scale and violence of last Monday’s confrontation between Chinese forces and Philippine naval personnel near the grounded Sierra Madre vessel on the Second Thomas Shoal has alarmed analysts. Eight Philippine personnel were injured, including a marine who had his thumb severed. (Source: Philippines Armed Forces and International Institute for Strategic Studies).

He stated that the fatality of a Philippine officer in the conflict would almost certainly mean war.

At the same time, the United States has confirmed that war between the Philippines and China would see it come to its ally’s defence.

There is rising concern about the threat to regional stability in Southeast Asia. It came as this week, tension between the Philippines and China in the South China Sea flared to unprecedented levels.

Philippines World War Two era vessel grounded on a rocky shoal could be a trigger point for regional war which could escalate even further. Serious threat

It was caused by clashes between Philippine naval forces and Chinese forces, off the Second Thomas Shoal.

In the dangerous melee, a host of Chinese boats manned by personnel with daggers, truncheons, and axes attempted to thwart a Philippine resupply vessel from reaching a naval outpost manned by 15 marines.

In 1999, in order to stake its claims in the South China Sea, the Philippines grounded the BRP Sierra Madre, a World War Two-era vessel, on the low-lying rocks at sea.

Afterwards, tensions began to flare in 2014 when Chinese coast guard vessels attempted to intercept supply missions. However, the conflicts over the outpost have risen in intensity in 2023 and 2024.

In February 2023, Chinese armed forces used a military-grade laser weapon on a Philippine resupply mission. It temporarily blinded the crew, leading to the mission being aborted.

Afterwards, there have been repeated and more violent attacks on Philippine efforts to supply the marine outpost.

In October, President Joe Biden warned that acts of aggression by China against Philippine forces would see the United States stand by its ally.

Japan is a staunch ally of the Philippines in its South China Sea conflict as well as the United States and so too, under the 1954 Manila Pact, is Thailand

A month later, Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, on a visit to Manila, also made clear its commitment to the Philippines. The Japanese PM revealed that Japan had supplied 12 naval vessels to its Southeast Asia ally. In addition, it announced a loan of ฿525 million to build five new patrol boats.

For Thailand and foreigners living in the kingdom, the situation may need to be looked at. Many analysts have been focused on the threat of war in the region over the Taiwan standoff. However, this present tinderbox has been overlooked.

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In addition, Thailand is a military ally of the United States and the Philippines through the 1954 Manila Pact. Thailand’s government was reminded of this by US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin in a formal visit to Bangkok in June 2022.

Dangerous situation at sea. Stakes have been raised constantly. Philippines President warned that the death of one Filipino military personnel would spark war

Undoubtedly, the situation is growing alarmingly dangerous.

At the International Institute for Strategic Studies Shangri-La Dialogue event in Singapore, which ran from May 31st to June 2nd, Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos Jr laid down a marker.

He was addressing the summit attended by foreign ministers and top officials from the United States, China, and Thailand. The Kingdom was represented by Minister of Defence Sutin Klangsaeng.

President Marcos warned the loss of a Philippine military officer in the dangerous standoff with China would be calamitous. In all likelihood, it would provoke a war between the countries. His comments came as diplomatic relations between Beijing and Manila have all but collapsed.

This comes particularly in the aftermath of Chinese claims that a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ had been forged. In short, it claimed to have an understanding with the previous Philippine administration over the issue.

China’s seditious activities in the Philippines

President Marcos gave short shrift to this and rejected it out of hand. This came despite the publication of an audio clip creating a diplomatic crisis between Manila and Beijing.

Most analysts attributed some credibility to the claim despite vociferous denials by former Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte.

In addition, it highlighted other concerns about links with China. In particular, the seditious influence established by Beijing over some Filipino naval officers sent there for training. 

At the same time, the conflict, 220 km off the coast of the Philippines and in proximity to the Gulf of Thailand, has grown red hot.

New laws announced by China on Saturday allow naval forces to fire on foreign vessels. Chinese forces may arrest and detain aliens found in its waters

China last Saturday announced that it had changed its laws. In short, it said that its forces have been authorised to fire upon alien vessels encroaching on its sovereignty. Simultaneously, it announced that it would arrest and detain any foreign military personnel for up to 60 days.

Therefore, the virulence seen in the Chinese onslaught of the resupply boat to the Sierra Madre on Monday was somewhat expected. Afterwards, China was reported by the Associated Press (AP) as denying its forces were armed as reported by the Philippines.

However, the Philippines subsequently released damning footage.

It showed Chinese small vessels with flashing lights harassing the Philippine supply boat near the Sierra Madre.

Shocking video footage from Monday of Chinese forces with axes, daggers and truncheons using violence on Filipino craft while also threatening crews

The Chinese were seen pointing daggers, axes, and truncheons at the Philippine personnel. Their personnel repeatedly tried to stab and deflate several Philippine boats. In addition, they pulled at ropes and tried to thwart the Philippine operation.

In the course of what was a chaotic battle at sea, eight Philippine servicemen were injured. One had his thumb severed after a Chinese Coast Guard rammed his vessel with massive force. In addition, the Chinese ransacked the affected vessels and took away eight disassembled rifles meant for the 15 or so marines onboard the Philippine outpost.

A spokesman for the Philippine Coast Guard described the attacks as a ‘brazen act of aggression.’ The Philippine armed forces later published video excerpts and confirmed that the Chinese were brandishing weapons aggressively at its personnel.

The Chinese craft blared sirens and were equipped with flashing police and strobe lights to cause disorder at the scene. In the meantime, they were supported by Chinese aircraft flying overhead.

US State Department made contact with the Philippines to assure its ally of its full support at this time of heightened tensions playing out with China

The Philippine armed forces also allege that Chinese personnel illegally boarded a Philippine naval craft engaged in the resupply mission.

The fear in Washington DC and Manila is that China is preparing for decisive action against the Second Thomas Shoal station. In addition, an ‘accident’ may easily occur, plunging the region into war and perhaps even a larger conflict.

On Tuesday, US Deputy Secretary of State Kurt Campbell telephoned his counterpart Maria Theresa Lazaro in Manila. A spokesman for the State Department afterwards warned that China’s ‘dangerous actions threatened regional peace and stability.’

During the call, the United States reaffirmed its mutual defence treaty with Manila signed in 1951. In the pact, the United States promised to come to the defence of the Philippines if attacked.

This includes ‘armed attacks on Philippine armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft, including those of its coast guard, anywhere in the South China Sea.’

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