Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr said on Sunday his country is not in the business of instigating wars and will always aim to settle disputes peacefully, amid escalating maritime confrontations with China.

“In defending the nation, we stay true to our Filipino nature that we would like to settle all these issues peacefully,” Marcos said in a speech to troops of the Western Command unit in charge of overseeing the South China Sea.

Philippine navy personnel and the Chinese coast guard had their latest clash during a routine resupply mission by Manila in the South China Sea last week, in which it said a sailor was severely injured and vessels damaged.

China’s Coast Guard personnel carrying knives and spears looted firearms and “deliberately punctured” Philippine boats involved in the mission, the Philippine military said.

China disputed the Philippine account, with a foreign ministry spokesperson saying on Thursday the necessary measures taken were lawful, professional and beyond reproach.

Marcos, who did not name China in his speech, commended the troops for exercising restraint “amidst intense provocation”, and said his country would always exercise its freedoms and rights in line with international law.

“In the performance of our duties, we will not resort to the use of force or intimidation, or deliberately inflict injury or harm to anyone,” Marcos said. “We stand firm. Our calm and peaceful disposition should not be mistaken for acquiescence.”

Recent maritime run-ins between China and the Philippines, a U.S. treaty ally in Southeast Asia, have made the highly strategic South China Sea a potential flashpoint between Washington and Beijing.

The United States has condemned China’s actions and reaffirmed its ironclad defence commitments against any attack on Philippine aircraft or vessels in the South China Sea under their mutual defence treaty.

But the Philippines said on Friday there was no reason to invoke the treaty because China’s actions, which security officials have described as escalatory, could not be classified as an “armed attack”.

China claims almost the entire South China Sea, a conduit for more than $3 trillion of annual shipborne commerce, including parts claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei.

In 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague said China’s claims had no legal basis, a decision Beijing has rejected.

“We are not in the business to instigate wars – our great ambition is to provide a peaceful and prosperous life for every Filipino,” Marcos said. “We refuse to play by the rules that force us to choose sides in a great power competition.”