Philippines says won't raise South China Sea tensions, won't use water cannons

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Blinken visits the Philippines
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MANILA (Reuters) -President Ferdinand Marcos Jr said on Monday the Philippines would not use water cannons or any offensive weapons in the South China Sea, and the last thing it wanted was to raise tensions in the strategic waterway.

"We will not follow the Chinese coast guard and Chinese vessels down that road," Marcos told reporters, adding the mission of the Philippine navy and coast guard was to lower tensions, and there no plans to install water cannons on vessels.

China's embassy in Manila did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Philippines and China have had several confrontations at disputed atolls in the South China Sea, most notably at the Second Thomas Shoal.

Last week, Manila protested Beijing's use of water cannons against Filipino vessels at the submerged reef, describing it as harassment and "dangerous manoeuvres", after a rise in tensions in recent months.

The Philippines has said such moves were aimed at disrupting supply missions to Filipino soldiers stationed in a naval ship there, which Manila deliberately grounded in 1999 to bolster its maritime claims.

"If the Philippines truly wants to de-escalate the situation in the South China Sea, it should immediately stop sending ships ... and stop sending supplies to illegally grounded ships," a spokesperson for the Chinese foreign ministry said at a regular press briefing on Monday.

China claims sovereignty over much of the South China Sea, a conduit for more than $3 trillion of annual ship-borne commerce, including parts claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei.

An international tribunal in 2016 said China's expansive claim had no legal basis, a decision Beijing has rejected.

(Reporting by Neil Jerome Morales and Colleen Howe in Beijing; Editing by John Mair and Bernadette Baum)