China Warns Philippines Not to ‘Escalate Tensions’ in South China Sea

Chinese and Philippine vessels had another encounter in the disputed waters, prompting a warning from the US

China has warned the Philippines not to “escalate tensions” in the South China Sea following the latest encounter between Chinese and Philippine vessels in the disputed waters.

“We warn the Philippines to cease making any statements that may escalate tensions and stop all acts of encroachment. If the Philippines continues to challenge China’s bottom line, China will continue to take resolute measures to firmly defend its territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests,” Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Wu Qian said on Sunday.

His statement came a day after a Chinese Coast Guard vessel fired a water cannon at a Philippine vessel trying to resupply a grounded ship on Second Thomas Shoal, a reef in the Spratly Islands claimed by China, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Taiwan. Wu said the Philippine vessel had “illegally intruded” waters near the reef, while the Philippines described China’s actions as “irresponsible and provocative.”

The Philippine Coast Guard said crew members were injured and the supply boat sustained “significant damage” during the incident. The Philippines uses the grounded ship, the World War II-era BRP Sierra Madre, as a base of operations in the area and frequently encounters Chinese vessels when trying to resupply personnel stationed on the ship.

Map showing overlapping claims to the South China Sea

The incident prompted a warning from the US, which has repeatedly reaffirmed the US-Philippine Mutual Defense Treaty applies to attacks on Philippine vessels in the South China Sea. That means the US is threatening to intervene if the maritime dispute turns into a shooting war.

“The United States stands with its ally the Philippines and condemns the dangerous actions by the People’s Republic of China (PRC) against lawful Philippine maritime operations in the South China Sea on March 23,” State Department spokesman Matt Miller said in a statement.

“The United States reaffirms that Article IV of the 1951 US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty extends to armed attacks on Philippine armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft – including those of its Coast Guard – anywhere in the South China Sea,” Miller added.

Tensions in the South China Sea have skyrocketed since Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. came into office in 2022 and took a harder line against China’s claims to the South China Sea. Marcos has been emboldened by the US, which is strongly backing Manila and is expanding its military presence in the Philippines.

Author: Dave DeCamp

Dave DeCamp is the news editor of, follow him on Twitter @decampdave.