US weapons not pictured 'en route to Philippines' after South China Sea clash

Social media users have misrepresented old photos of United States military operations in posts falsely claiming they show the delivery of weapons to the Philippines. The images circulated as a violent South China Sea confrontation -- in which Chinese coast guard personnel brandished weapons and rammed Philippine naval boats -- fuelled growing concerns that Washington could be dragged into the dispute. A spokesman for the Philippine military said the photos showed no such weapons delivery.

"Thousands of US Ammunition and Weapons Flown to the Philippines," read a Facebook post from June 23, 2024 shared more than 150 times.

It featured three images of trucks loaded with cargo, which the caption claims are thousands of military equipment sent from a California air base on June 22, 2024 as part of a "major" US Air Force operation. 

"The aircraft is scheduled to land at Clark military base in the Philippines," it said.

Screenshot of the false post taken June 26, 2024

Similar false claims were also shared in other Facebook posts here, here and here.

The posts surfaced after Chinese sailors wielding knives, sticks and an axe thwarted a Filipino attempt to resupply marines stationed on a derelict warship deliberately grounded in the South China Sea to assert Manila's territorial claims.

It was the latest and most serious incident in a series of escalating confrontations between Chinese and Philippine ships in recent months as Beijing stepped up efforts to push its claims to nearly all of the strategically located waterway. 

AFP reported that the violent confrontation fuelled growing concern that the dispute could drag in the United States, Manila's mutual defence partner. 

But the Philippine government said it did not consider the clash an "armed attack" that would trigger the treaty. 

Colonel Xerxes Trinidad, public affairs chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, said the photos do not show a recent US shipment of military aid to the Philippines. 

"There was no event on June 22, 2024, where thousands of US military cargo were flown from California to Clark air base," Trinidad told AFP on June 25.

Reverse image searches on Google found the images show US military operations in 2022.

Ukraine-bound cargo

The first photo showing piles of cargo set to be loaded onto a plane corresponded to the 51-second mark of a video posted in the US Marine Corps' archives on July 29, 2022 (archived link).

According to the caption, the footage was filmed that same day and shows humanitarian aid bound for Ukraine at Dover Air Force Base in the US state of Delaware.

The video's title read: "Dover AFP supports US, Ukraine Strategic Partnership."

Below is a screenshot comparison between the photo in false posts (left) and in the US army's video (right):

Screenshot comparison taken June 26, 2024

The second and third photos appeared in the six and 16-second marks of a video uploaded on February 10, 2022 by the Defense Visual Information Distribution Service (DVIDS) -- a US military public affairs service (archived link).

DVIDS said the clips were taken when Dover Air Force Base hosted Oksana Markarova, Ukraine's ambassador to the United States, during a foreign military sales mission.

Below are screenshot comparisons between the photos in the false posts (left) and the DVIDS video (right):

Screenshot comparison taken June 26, 2024.

AFP has fact-checked a wave of misinformation on the South China Sea dispute here.

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