Philippine coastguard hits out at China's 'brute force' after water cannon attack

China has been branded "a bully" and an international lawbreaker after its ships blasted Philippine vessels with water cannon in the South China Sea.

Sky News was on board the BRP Bagacay when a Chinese vessel fired water at it, causing significant damage.

Philippine coastguard spokesman Jay Tarriela told Sky News that this week's confrontation was the first time China had used "such aggression" against their ships.

"The metal parts and the railing were bent. The canopy was also destroyed. So this came as a surprise for us that China never hesitated to use brute force," he said.

"It completely justifies us calling The People's Republic of China a bully country."

The Philippine coastguard was on a resupply mission to the Scarborough Shoal to deliver food and fuel to Philippine fishermen when they were struck.

The submerged reef lies in disputed waters. China claims sovereignty over the reef but it is much closer to the Philippines and lies within its legally recognised exclusive economic zone.

The vessel Sky News was on board was the closest the coastguard had ever been to the shoal - just 600 metres away from it.

Asked if the mission to the shoal was a provocative move by the Philippine coastguard, Commodore Tarriela denied they were "poking the bear" but rather "driving the bear out of our own territory".

The Philippines has been stepping up its patrols in the area under the instruction of President Bongbong Marcos, and reasserting its claim to the shoal in recent months.

It has raised the spectre of open conflict. While neither side currently wants that, there is now a greater threat of open conflict.

Asked what the end game was for the Philippines, Commodore Tarriela said their priority was to "tell the world" about China's aggression.

He said their secondary goal was to ensure "like-minded states" also made China "fall in line and respect international law".

"Otherwise, it's everybody's loss," he added.

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Philippine government policy is not to resist using water cannon against Chinese vessels - and Commodore Tarriela insisted that policy remains in place after the confrontation.

The government also remains intensely determined to protect the waters it believes it has every right to operate in.

"We're not going to yield and we're not going to surrender a square inch of our territory," Commodore Tarriela insisted.

Beijing has called the action its own coastguard took as "necessary".

Speaking at the Chinese foreign ministry's daily news conference, spokesperson Lin Jian described the coastguard's conduct as "professional, proper, and lawful".