MANILA, Philippines — A Chinese coast guard ship twice hit a Philippine coast guard vessel with a “military-grade laser light” that caused temporarily blinded some of its Filipino crew in the disputed South China Sea, the Philippine coast guard said Monday, calling the act a “blatant” violation of Manila’s sovereign rights.
The Chinese coast guard ship also maneuvered dangerously close, about 150 yards (137 meters), to block the Philippine coast guard’s BRP Malapascua patrol vessel from approaching the Philippine-occupied Second Thomas Shoal on Feb. 6, the Philippine coast guard said in a statement.
The Philippines has filed nearly 200 diplomatic protests against China’s aggressive actions in the disputed waters in 2022 alone.
Although the Chinese coast guard had tried to block Philippine coast guard ships in the disputed waters before, this was the first time it used a laser light and caused physical suffering among Filipino coast guard personnel, Philippine coast guard spokesperson Commodore Armand Balilo told The Associated Press.
There was no immediate comment from the Chinese Embassy in Manila.
“The Chinese ship illuminated the green laser light twice toward the BRP Malapascua, causing temporary blindness to her crew at the bridge,” the Philippine coast guard said. “The Chinese vessel also made dangerous maneuvers by approaching about 150 yards from the vessel’s starboard quarter.”
The Chinese coast guard’s aggressive actions forced the BRP Malapascua to veer away from the offshore area, where it was escorting a Philippine supply vessel that was delivering food and Filipino sailors to a Philippine navy sentry ship, the BRP Sierra Madre, which has long been marooned on Second Thomas shoal, the coast guard said.
“The deliberate blocking of the Philippine government ships to deliver food and supplies to our military personnel on board the BRP Sierra Madre is a blatant disregard for, and a clear violation of, Philippine sovereign rights in this part of the West Philippine Sea,” the coast guard said, using the name the Philippines has adopted for the stretch of waters close to its western coast.
It was not immediately clear if the Philippine resupply mission pushed through despite the incident. The coast guard has reported the incident to an inter-agency body monitoring the South China Sea and the Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila, Balilo said.
China’s increasingly assertive actions in the strategic waterway, which it claims virtually in its entirety, has continued despite friendly overtures by former President Rodrigo Duterte – whose term ended in June – and his successor, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who met Chinese President Xi Jinping in January on a visit to Beijing.
The Chinese coast guard also blocked Philippine coast guard vessels escorting a Filipino supply vessel from approaching the Second Thomas Shoal in August, the coast guard said.
One of two Chinese coast guard ships that were joined by two Chinese militia vessels removed the cover of its 70mm armament during the blockade, the coast guard said, adding it would not be deterred by China’s aggression in protecting Philippine sovereignty and sovereign rights in the disputed sea.
“The Philippine coast guard will continue to exercise due diligence in protecting the country’s territorial integrity against foreign aggression,” coast guard Adm. Artemio Abu said.
Aside from China and the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei also have overlapping claims in the resource-rich and busy waterway, where a bulk of the world’s commerce and oil transits.
The United States lays no claims to the disputed sea but has deployed its Navy ships, aircraft carriers and Air Force jets to patrol the waters to promote freedom of navigation and overflight – moves that have angered Beijing, which has warned Washington to stop meddling in what it says is a purely Asian dispute.
The U.S. Navy and Marine Corps held joint exercises in the South China Sea over the weekend at a time of heightened tensions with Beijing over the shooting down of a suspected Chinese spy balloon. The U.S. has been taking steps to rebuild its military might in the Philippines more than 30 years after the closure of its large bases in the country and reinforcing an arc of military alliances in Asia.
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