Filipino soldiers who faced off against Chinese coast guards armed with axes and knives given medals

  • Filipino soldiers involved in a clash last week with Chinese coast guard have been awarded medals.

  • Their vessels came under attack last week while delivering supplies in the disputed South China Sea.

  • The award ceremony is unlikely to ease tensions with China in the contested region.

Filipino soldiers who reportedly used their bare hands to fight off Chinese coast guards armed with swords and knives were awarded medals by the Philippines for de-escalating tensions, according to the Manila Bulletin.

Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. bestowed the Order of Lapu-Lapu on 80 soldiers on Sunday, per the outlet.

"I salute the 80 officers and troops who sailed the waters and exercised the greatest restraint amidst intense provocation," he said, adding: "You demonstrated to the world that the Filipino spirit is one that is brave, determined, and yet is compassionate."

Seventy-nine Filipino soldiers received the Kamagi Medal, per the outlet, with Seaman First Class Underwater Operator Jeffrey Facundo receiving the Kampilan Medal, an award given to individuals who are "seriously" wounded or injured.

On June 17, Chinese coast guard personnel rammed their boats into Filipino vessels and boarded and attacked them, according to the Armed Forces of the Philippines, which shared photos of the confrontation.

Two days after the incident, the Philippines also released a video that it said showed China Coast Guard personnel wielding an ax, flinging rocks, and slashing boats with "bladed and pointed weapons."

General Romeo Brawner, the Philippines' top military commander, criticized China for what he described as "reckless and aggressive" behavior, which he said happened while the Philippines navy and coast guard were delivering supplies to soldiers in the disputed South China Sea.

He said that the clash resulted in injuries and one soldier losing a thumb.

Brawner described the incident as "a blatant violation of international maritime law, Philippine sovereignty, and sovereign rights."

But China has defended the move, with China's foreign ministry spokesman Lin Jian saying it acted in accordance with the law.

The incident is being seen as the latest aggressive act from Beijing in the South China Sea, with others involving lasers, water cannons, maritime militias, and even the alleged poisoning of fishing waters.

However, this latest move by the Philippines is unlikely to calm tensions in the contested waters, and is likely to be seen as a further provocation by China.

"As we award these medals, we remember that on June 17th, we made a conscious and deliberate choice to remain in the path of peace," Marcos Jr. said when bestowing the medals, per the Manila Bulletin.

China has claimed sovereignty over the South China Sea for decades, a claim that was roundly rejected in the Hague in 2016.

On June 15, China enacted a law allowing its Coast Guard to detain foreign vessels and people in waters under China's jurisdiction for up to 60 days, according to a paper by the US Indo-Pacific Command.

Sari Arho Havrén, an associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute specializing in China's foreign relations, told BI last week that China wants to change the status quo in the waters "by force" and aims to "exhaust" neighboring countries into giving in to its territorial claims.

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