Philippines eyes multilateral effort to avert South China Sea clashes

A Philippine flagged boat is blocked by a China Coast Guard vessel during an incident that resulted in a collision between the two vessels, in the disputed waters of the South China Sea in this screen grab obtained from handout video released October 22, 2023. (China Coast Guard/Handout via Reuters)

MANILA — The Philippines will boost multilateral activities including freedom of navigation patrols in the South China Sea, its defense minister said on Wednesday, expressing hope that more countries would “join our fight” after an altercation with China this week.

The Philippines and China earlier this week accused each other of raising tensions, with Manila saying China’s coastguard intentionally collided with its boats on a resupply mission to a small contingent of troops stationed on a rusty ship grounded two decades ago.

The incident, near a disputed reef in the Philippines‘ exclusive economic zone, drew widespread condemnation of Beijing, which says it has sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea, despite an international arbitration award declaring that claim has no legal basis.

The recent incident with China “could result in more willing nations to join our fight,” Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro said in a televised interview on state-run PTV. He did not elaborate on what that would entail.

Teodoro also said he is optimistic on the progress on reciprocal access agreement between Japan and the Philippines.

Philippine ties with China have deteriorated this year, with more confrontations at sea, coinciding with Manila strengthening its decades-old military alliance with the United States, including granting Washington expanded access to its bases.

– Reporting by Neil Jerome Morales, Karen Lema, and Mikhail Flores; Editing by Martin Petty

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