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Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos Jr warns China against ‘acts of war’

Image source, Getty Images

Legend, Mr Marcos was speaking at a summit of defense chiefs in Singapore

  • Author, Tessa Wong
  • Role, BBC News, Singapore

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr has warned China not to cross any red lines in the South China Sea, where tensions between the two countries continue to escalate.

If a Filipino died as a result of China’s deliberate actions, he said, the Philippines would consider it an “act of war” and respond accordingly.

Mr Marcos was speaking at a security forum in Singapore attended by defense chiefs from around the world, including the United States and China.

In response, a Chinese military spokesperson accused the Philippines of “blaming China” and “slandering and attacking.”

In recent months, the long-running dispute between China and the Philippines over territory in the South China Sea has escalated into aggressive clashes.

Manila has vehemently complained about Chinese patrol boats firing water cannons at Philippine boats and supply ships.

Beijing has declared that it defends its sovereignty. During the summit, a Chinese military spokesperson accused the Philippines of carrying out “provocations”.

Observers fear any escalation could trigger conflict in the South China Sea between the Chinese and Americans. The United States is bound by a treaty signed with the Philippines to come to the aid of the Southeast Asian nation, should it be attacked.

The United States has said it will honor its commitments to its allies in the region and has sought to bring them closer, including holding a summit with the Philippines and Japan last month.

On Friday evening, Mr. Marcos had just finished his opening speech at the Shangri-la Dialogue in Singapore when a delegate brought up a hypothetical situation in which a Chinese water cannon killed a Filipino soldier. He was asked if he considered this a red line and if it would invoke the treaty between the United States and the Philippines.

“If, by a deliberate act, a Filipino – not only a military man, but even a Filipino citizen – is killed… that is what I think is very, very close to what we define as an act of war and that is why we will react accordingly. And our treaty partners, I believe, also apply the same standards.

He noted that Filipinos have been injured in recent clashes, but none have been killed yet. “Once we got to that point, for sure, we would have crossed the Rubicon. Is this a red line? This will almost certainly be a red line.

Asked by the BBC for comment, a Chinese military spokesperson said that “if a single personnel member was accidentally killed in a conflict or an accident triggering a war, then I truly believe it is a belligerent country.”

Hours later, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a speech that “the harassment the Philippines faces is dangerous – plain and simple.”

When asked how the United States would respond to the situation posed to Mr. Marcos, he said that while its commitment to the treaty with the Philippines was “ironclad,” he would not speculate on how the United States could react.

But he said they would continue to intensify dialogue and promote freedom of navigation in the seas and air. “Our goal is to make sure we don’t let things get out of control unnecessarily,” he said. “A war or fight with China is neither imminent, in my opinion, nor inevitable.”

Speaking to a room full of delegates mostly from Asia, he highlighted the United States’ commitment to the Indo-Pacific region, which he said remains its priority, despite conflicts in Ukraine and Gaza.

He listed how they were strengthening the defenses of various Asian countries through military exercises, agreements and the presence of American troops. “The United States can only be secure if Asia is secure,” he said.

Image source, Getty Images

Legend, Chinese coast guard ships are increasingly firing water cannons at Philippine boats and supply ships.

A key part of U.S. strategy is strengthening the Philippine military. A multi-year defense roadmap with the United States could see the superpower send in drones, military transport aircraft and defense systems. Manila is also seeking to obtain a significant share of the US military aid package offered to its allies in the Indo-Pacific region.

The Philippines is also increasing its own military spending and has acquired missiles from India.

The issue of Sino-Philippine tensions was raised earlier at the summit during a key meeting between Mr Austin and his Chinese counterpart Dong Jun on Friday.

The Chinese military said the Philippines was “emboldened and supported by external powers” ​​and “broke its own promises and made provocations” regarding the controversial Second Thomas Shoal, where Manila established a military outpost.

They also opposed the United States sending a medium-range missile system to the Philippines during a recent joint military exercise, saying it “poses a real threat to regional security.”

But the United States and China have also indicated they want to improve communications to avoid conflict.

The United States said it was working to resume telephone conversations between military commanders – a key line of communication that was disrupted in 2022 after US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan – and the creation of a crisis communications working group.

“I told Mr. Dong that if he called me with an urgent matter, I would answer the phone. And I certainly hope he will do the same. And it is this communication… that will help keep things in the right place and help us move things forward towards greater stability and security in the region,” Mr. Austin said.

A Chinese military spokesperson told reporters the meeting was “positive, practical and constructive.” He added that U.S.-China relations are “stabilizing after further deterioration.”

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With a penchant for words, jack began writing at an early age. As editor-in-chief of his high school newspaper, he honed his skills telling impactful stories. Smith went on to study journalism at Columbia University, where he graduated top of his class. After interning at the New York Times, jack landed a role as a news writer. Over the past decade, he has covered major events like presidential elections and natural disasters. His ability to craft compelling narratives that capture the human experience has earned him acclaim. Though writing is his passion, jack also enjoys hiking, cooking and reading historical fiction in his free time. With an eye for detail and knack for storytelling, he continues making his mark at the forefront of journalism.
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