“Such a conclusion undercuts the credibility of the Philippine Government’s negotiation posture,” the State Department said in a statement Wednesday.
While the Philippine side, which is a close American ally, initially claimed the confrontation was a planned show of China’s supposed weakness, the foreign ministry later retracted those comments.
Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs Alan Peter Cayetano said Wednesday that his country had a planned plan to avoid escalation and would prefer to avoid actions that could affect the upcoming Association of Southeast Asian Nations meetings in the Philippines.
“There was no intention, just a good measure. We thought of doing it preemptively, to send a message, a positive message,” Cayetano said at a news conference in Beijing. “We are not only focused on the militarization, but this year we’re just focusing on really our common defense concerns to maintain regional peace and security.”
Reaching the conclusion that China is really to blame for the incident would be reminiscent of the conclusion the Obama administration reached when it also blamed the Chinese military after a standoff between the Navy and Chinese Coast Guard vessels over a disputed reef in the South China Sea.
When the standoff began in 2013, the United States, at the time, was already angered by China’s militarization of these waters. The problem, however, is that in the case of the Scarborough Shoal, the standoff also involved a known U.S. ally, the Philippines.
The United States released video footage showing the attempted move away from the shoal, while the Chinese released the result of its examination of the video: The encounter was resoundingly settled when China and the Philippine coast guard did not touch the reef.
Another video taken by the U.S. Navy on July 24, 2015 shows the brief spat and does not appear to show any of the water cannons.
Ultimately, the incident, in which two Chinese Coast Guard vessels blocked a Philippine Coast Guard patrol boat as it tried to approach the shoal, has prompted the Philippines to adopt more proactive maritime security measures, especially in the disputed Scarborough Shoal.
“What is the value of these little skirmishes?” said Christopher Johnson, who was the Pacific director of the National Security Council under President Barack Obama. “One of the things we’ve learned is that these kinds of one-offs do not work and can start spiraling out of control.”