Philippines Announce They Will Proportionally Respond If Attacked By Chinese Personnel

Joaquin Camarena
Joaquin Camarena
Joaquin completed his undergraduate and graduate education at a Texas university and has studied extensively in China. As a former Marine Corps intelligence analyst, he worked in the Indo-Pacific region. His areas of expertise include PLA modernization, particularly PLAN/PLANMC and its expeditionary capabilities, as well as CCP and Chinese domestic politics. He also runs the Sino Talk brand on Instagram and Twitter and is the IndoPacific Desk Chief for Atlas.

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On July 2nd, the Philippines and China held the ninth meeting of the China-Philippines Bilateral Consultation Mechanism on the South China Sea (BCM-SCS) in the capital city of Manila. During the meeting, Philippine Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Maria Theresa P. Lazaro informed Chinese Vice Foreign Affairs Minister Chen Xiaodong that the Philippines will defend themselves if attacked in a similar manner as occurred at Second Thomas Shoal on June 17th.

Bilateral Consultation Mechanism Meeting

The Philippine delegation demanded that China pay 60 million Philippine Pesos ($1.02 million USD) in restitution for the damage that China Coast Guard (CCG) personnel caused during the incident. Lazaro also demanded that China return the eight CAR-15 rifles and other equipment that they ‘confiscated’ as they boarded the vessels.

The Chinese side did not respond to Lazaro’s statement or other demands that the Philippines made during the meeting.

China and the Philippines described the meeting as “two sides having candid and constructive discussions on the situation in the SCS, specifically the ongoing situation at Second Thomas Shoal. China “reiterated its sovereignty over the Nansha Qundao [Spratly Islands], including Ren’ai Jiao [Second Thomas Shoal], and its sovereign rights and jurisdiction over the relevant waters.” Chen urged the Philippine delegation to stop its infringement and provocation at once, “earnestly abide by the provisions of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the SCS,” return to the right track of properly handling disputes through dialogue and consultation, “jointly manage the situation at Second Thomas Shoal with China,” promote the easing and de-escalation of the maritime situation, and stabilize China-Philippine relations to prevent further deterioration.

Philippine Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Maria Theresa P. Lazaro shaking hands with Chinese Vice Foreign Affairs Minister Chen Xiaodong before the ninth meeting of the China-Philippines Bilateral Consultation Mechanism on the South China Sea held on July 2nd.

Chen pointed out that “both sides believed in maintaining peace and stability in the SCS, which serves the interests of China and the Philippines and is also the common goal of other countries in the region.” Furthermore, China and the Philippines “agreed to continue to maintain dialogue and consultation through the BCM-SCS and other forums to handle differences and disagreements.” They also discussed ways to improve maritime communication mechanisms, promote dialogue between the two countries’ coast guards, and advance cooperation in marine science and technology and environmental protection.

Lazaro pointed out to Chen that “the Philippines will be relentless in protecting its interests and upholding its sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction in the West Philippine Sea [SCS].” Referencing the recent incidents near Second Thomas Shoal, she said that “both sides recognized that there is a need to restore trust, rebuild confidence, and create conditions conducive to productive dialogue and interaction.” Both sides also discussed their countries’ positions on Second Thomas Shoal and “affirmed their commitment to de-escalate tensions without prejudice to their respective positions.” However, Lazaro also said there was “substantial progress on developing measures to manage the situation at sea, but significant differences remain,” and both China and the Philippines will continue discussions to find a “mutually acceptable resolution to the issues.”

China Coast Guard personnel ramming Philippine Navy RHIB and pointing weapons at Philippine personnel during June 17th incident (Photo: X/@TeamAFP)

China and the Philippines signed the “Arrangement on Improving Philippines-China Maritime Communication Mechanisms” and will continue to discuss how to operationalize the plan. Lazaro said the Philippine and Chinese sides recalled the “outcomes of the 8th BCM-SCS, which recognized the need to strengthen the bilateral maritime communication mechanism in the SCS.” Both sides also agreed to “continue discussions on maritime cooperation between their respective coast guard authorities, including the possible resumption of the Joint Coast Guard Committee (JCGC).” The Undersecretary said China and the Philippines will continue to discuss the possibility of convening an academic forum among academics and scientists on marine scientific and technological cooperation.

Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief Statement

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief, General Romeo Brawner Jr., made similar comments during an interview on July 4th. Brawner said that the Philippine troops would be allowed to “apply the same level of force that would allow” them to defend themselves should someone attack.

The AFP Chief gave an example of Philippine soldiers using knives or similar weapons to defend themselves during an attack by CCG or China Maritime Militia (CMM) personnel. He also said that the Philippine soldiers would use the new Rules of Engagement (ROE) to maintain proportionality so they would not shoot the CCG or CMM personnel.

ROE Changes Signals Philippines’ Willingness to Challenge China’s Actions

The statements by Lazaro and Brawner Jr. indicate that the Philippine government decided to respond proportionally to future attacks by the CCG during resupply missions to Second Thomas Shoal. However, the response likely caused China to change its ROE so Chinese personnel could use increasingly aggressive actions against Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) or Philippine Navy (PN) personnel. The Philippines chose to change the ROE to respond to future attacks because it understands that its personnel are now in increasingly dangerous situations and at a disadvantage. The change in ROE is also necessary because of the potential for a violent altercation to occur between Chinese and Philippine personnel that results in the deaths of PN or PCG personnel. Philippine President Marcos Jr. previously said that the Philippines’ red line regarding whether it will activate the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) with the United States is if Philippine personnel are killed during an incident. However, the Philippines also wants to avoid activating the MDT to prevent China from using it to validate its narrative that the country is acting on behalf of the United States.

China, however, would view the Philippines’ ROE change as a challenge to its SCS claim, especially against the Second Thomas Shoal. Chen’s comments during the ninth BCM-SCS point to this because he specifically mentions China’s sovereignty over the shoal and his call for the Philippines to stop its provocations in the SCS. However, China also signaled that the country is willing to continue dialogue and communication with the Philippines, but only bilaterally. The best indicator is that the two countries signed the Arrangement on Improving Philippines-China Maritime Communication Mechanisms while discussing the possible resumption of the JCGC. China would respond to the Philippines’ announcement by changing its ROE to allow CCG and CMM personnel more leeway in what kind of aggressive actions they are allowed to use.

For example, China would allow its CCG personnel to carry crossbows or other range weapons to threaten or shoot PCG or PN personnel if they fight back during any boarding or towing. However, China would limit the use of firearms under very specific circumstances or ways, such as allowing Designated Marksmen or snipers on CCG or People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) boats to provide overwatch. This course of action would allow China to respond to the change in ROE while increasing pressure on the Philippines to comply with its demands regarding the shoal. However, China’s potential response would also increase the likelihood of an incident because of the CCG’s and PLAN’s lack of experience in handling sensitive and tense situations, which would cause the Philippines to activate its MDT with the United States.