In disputed seas of the South China Sea last week, the Philippine Coast Guard accused a China Coast Guard ship of firing a “military grade” laser at several of its personnel, temporarily blinding them.
The Philippine Coast Guard released a statement on its official Facebook page alongside photographs purporting to show the green laser beam, alleging that the Chinese ship “did risky maneuvers” while reaching within 150 yards (137 meters) of the Philippine vessel.
China refers to the Spratly Islands as the Nansha Islands. The claimed incident took place on February 6 at Ayungin Shoal, also known as Second Thomas Shoal. Renai Reef is the Chinese name for the shoal.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying stated Monday that the Philippine ship “trespassed into the waters of Renai Reef without the authorization of the Chinese side.”
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said, “The Chinese maritime police vessel defended China’s sovereignty and maritime order in accordance with China’s internal law and international law,” without providing details about what actions the Chinese side did.
The vast majority of the South China Sea and its islands are under China’s “indisputable sovereignty.” The Spratlys, an archipelago of 100 islands and reefs, are contested territory between the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan.
To reinforce Manila’s claim to the area, Filipino marines continue to station themselves on Second Thomas Shoal, where in 1999 they deliberately grounded a military transport ship, the BRP Sierra Madre. The Philippines refers to this body of water as the West Philippine Sea.
According to a Philippine news release, the Chinese ship challenged the Philippine ship BRP Malapascua on February 6. The Malapascua had been on its way to restock the Sierra Madre.
The BRP Malapascua’s bridge crew was temporarily blinded after the Chinese ship flashed its green laser light twice in their direction. The report also noted that the Chinese ship “made risky maneuvers” by coming within around 150 yards of the ship’s starboard quarter.
A flagrant disdain for, and violation of, Philippine sovereign rights in this area of the West Philippine Sea can be seen in the obstruction of Philippine government ships carrying food and supplies to our military personnel aboard the BRP Sierra Madre.
Known incidents involving lasers in the past There had previously been rumors that Chinese ships were using lasers to target enemy vessels.
Australia claimed in February 2022 that a People’s Liberation Army Navy destroyer “illuminated” an Australian P-8A aircraft over the Arafura Sea, the body of water separating Australia’s Northern Territory from New Guinea to the north. The P-8A is a reconnaissance and anti-submarine warfare jet.
The Chinese government at the time denied the Australian allegations. Chinese ship’s routine navigation on the high seas is in accordance with relevant international law and practice and is entirely valid and lawful, Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang said last year.
During sorties over the South China Sea in May 2019, Australian pilots said they were often targeted by commercial lasers.
In addition, according to a CNN article from June 2018, US military sources reported at least 20 instances involving Chinese lasers in the eastern Pacific between September 2017 and June 2018.
Manila, which has a mutual defense treaty with Washington, revealed intentions to provide the US military access to more bases in the Philippines on February 6, just days before the alleged incident.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning warned on February 2 that the action “escalated tension in the region and endangers regional peace and stability.”
U.S. Navy warships routinely operate in the South China Area in compliance with international law and freedom of the high seas, despite the fact that the United States does not claim any territory in the sea.
While urging China “to halt its provocative acts and to uphold international law in the South China Sea,” the United States State Department last year specifically cited Second Thomas Shoal.
Beijing was “interfering with Philippine sovereign rights within the Philippine exclusive economic zone at Second Thomas Shoal,” according to a statement released by the Philippines on June 17, 2022.
According to a statement released by the Philippine Coast Guard on Monday, Chinese warships also prevented a Philippine resupply mission from reaching Sierra Madre last August.
The head of the Philippine Coast Guard has stated that his organization will not be intimidated by Chinese activity in waters that Manila claims as its own.
Adm. Artermio M. Abu has stated that the Philippine Coast Guard ships will remain in the West Philippine Sea to maintain our presence and assert our sovereign rights despite the dangerous maneuvers of the considerably larger (Chinese) ships and their hostile conduct at sea.