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Philippines Turned Down US Help on China Row: Official

The Philippines has turned down offers from the US to assist in its military operations in the South China Sea amid growing tensions with Beijing.

This was according to Manila’s military chief, Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr., following a flare-up between Filipino soldiers and Chinese Coast Guard personnel over a resupply mission on a contested shoal.

He revealed that Washington had indeed offered its support following the incident, but the Southeast Asian nation preferred to handle the situation on its own.

“Yes, of course, they have been offering help and they asked us how they could help us in any way,” Brawner told Reuters. “We try to exhaust all possible options that we have before we ask for help.”

The US and the Philippines are bound by the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty that obliges them to support each other in case of an armed attack.

Latest Altercation an Armed Attack?

On June 17, Chinese vessels deliberately rammed Philippine resupply boats near a strategic reef in the South China Sea to prevent them from delivering food to a derelict warship on the Second Thomas Shoal.

China Coast Guard sailors brandished knives, an axe, and other weapons, threatening their Filipino counterparts.

Dramatic video footage showed a Filipino soldier losing a thumb due to the clash, while a Chinese sailor was seen deflating a rubber boat with Philippine troops aboard.

Despite calls to consider the latest altercation an armed attack that could invoke the Mutual Defense Treaty, Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin said he believes it has not reached that point yet.

“Well, you know this was probably a misunderstanding or an accident. We’re not yet ready to classify this as an armed attack. I don’t know whether the ones we saw are bolo, ax, nothing beyond that,” he stressed.

Need for Direct US Support

The June 17 incident was not the first altercation between China and the Philippines in the contested maritime territory.

In October last year, the two nations traded blame for two collisions between their boats on another resupply mission.

Two months later, Manila accused the Chinese coast guard of using water cannons to obstruct three government boats delivering provisions to Filipino fishermen near a reef off its coast.

Former US National Security Deputy Adviser Matt Pottinger has mentioned the possibility of direct US naval support, but the Philippine government said they wanted the resupply missions to be a “pure Philippine operation.”

“This is our legitimate national interest, so we don’t see any reason for [the US] to come in,” Philippine National Security Adviser Eduardo Ano said.

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