In the disputed South China Sea, the Philippines on Monday accused a Chinese coast guard ship of firing a military-grade laser at a Philippine coast guard vessel, briefly blinding several of its crew in what Manila called a “blatant” infringement of Manila’s sovereign rights.
On February 6, the Chinese ship also sailed dangerously close, at a distance of only 449 feet, to prevent the Philippine patrol boat BRP Malapascua from getting too close to Second Thomas Shoal, a submerged coral that has been seized by Philippine forces.
In 2022 alone, the Philippines has lodged around 200 diplomatic protests against China’s aggressive behavior in the disputed waters.
China is in conflict with other claimants because it practically completely claims the South China Sea. Despite the former Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and his successor, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who visited with Chinese leader Xi Jinping in January in Beijing, making cordial overtures to Beijing, tensions have continued and the Philippines and the US have forged a deeper military partnership.
Commodore Armand Balilo, a spokesman for the Philippine coast guard, told The Associated Press that although the Chinese coast guard had previously attempted to obstruct Philippine coast guard ships in the disputed waters, this was the first occasion it used lasers and physically hurt Filipino personnel.
The Chinese Embassy in Manila did not immediately respond.
According to the Philippine statement, “The Chinese ship illuminated the green laser light twice toward the BRP Malapascua, causing temporary blindness to her crew at the bridge.”
The BRP Sierra Madre, a Philippine naval sentry ship that has been left stranded on Second Thomas Shoal since 1999, was receiving food and crew members when the Philippine vessel was ordered to leave the region, according to the coast guard.
It was unclear right away whether the mishap affected the Philippine resupply operation or not.
In August, the Chinese coast guard reportedly prevented Philippine ships accompanying a supply ship from entering Second Thomas Shoal. The coast guard reported that at the moment, one of the two Chinese ships, which were accompanied by two Chinese civilian vessels, took off the cover of its 70mm gun. It added that it would not be intimidated by China’s aggression in defending Philippine sovereignty in the disputed territory.
Beijing has cautioned Washington to cease intervening in what it claims is a strictly Asian conflict, despite the fact that the United States has deployed military to monitor the waters to support freedom of movement and overflight.
In the midst of escalating tensions with Beijing following the shooting down of a suspected Chinese spy balloon, the US Navy and Marine Corps conducted joint exercises in the South China Sea over the weekend. More than 30 years after closing its sizable bases there and strengthening an arc of military alliances in Asia, the US has begun taking moves to reestablish its military might in the Philippines.