The Philippines lodged a diplomatic protest against China on Tuesday after a Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) ship targeted a Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) vessel with a military-grade laser in disputed waters earlier this month.
The incident, which reportedly caused temporary blindness among Filipino crew members, occurred near Second Thomas Shoal, 105 nautical miles (approximately 121 miles) off the Philippine province of Palawan — well within the country’s 200-nautical mile (approximately 230 miles) exclusive economic zone (EEZ) — in the West Philippine Sea on Feb. 6.
The shoal, locally known as Ayungin, houses a Philippine military contingent aboard a World War II ship that was placed to reinforce Manila’s sovereignty in the area in 1999.
In its eighth protest against the Chinese Embassy in Manila this year — and 203rd overall — the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) condemned “the shadowing, harassment, dangerous maneuvers, directing of military-grade laser and illegal radio challenges” posed by CCG ship 5205 against the PCG vessel, BRP Malapascua, as it carried out a resupply mission to the shoal.
DFA spokesperson Ma. Teresita Daza described China’s actions as “acts of aggression” that are “disturbing and disappointing” as they occurred just a month after Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. landed in Beijing for a state visit.
She asserted in a statement:
The Philippines has the prerogative to conduct legitimate activities within its exclusive economic zone and continental shelf. China does not have law enforcement rights or powers in and around Ayungin Shoal or any part of the Philippine EEZ.
The DFA also called on China to comply with its obligations under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), as well as the 2016 Award in the South China Sea Arbitration, which ruled that Beijing’s expansive maritime claims have no basis in international law and that it has no lawful claims to areas of the Philippines’ EEZ and continental shelf.
Later on Tuesday, Marcos also summoned Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian to raise his “serious concern” over China’s actions.
After their meeting, the Chinese Embassy issued a statement saying Marcos and Huang had “exchanged views on how to implement the consensus reached by the two heads of state, strengthen dialogue and communication, and properly manage maritime differences between China and the Philippines.”
The laser-pointing incident has also drawn protests from the U.S. and Australia.
U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement:
The United States stands with our Philippine allies in the face of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) Coast Guard’s reported use of laser devices against the crew of a Philippine Coast Guard ship on February 6 in the South China Sea. The PRC’s conduct was provocative and unsafe, resulting in the temporary blindness of the crewmembers of the BRP Malapascua and interfering with the Philippines’ lawful operations in and around Second Thomas Shoal. More broadly, the PRC’s dangerous operational behavior directly threatens regional peace and stability, infringes upon freedom of navigation in the South China Sea as guaranteed under international law, and undermines the rules-based international order.
Meanwhile, Australian Ambassador to the Philippines HK Yu tweeted:
Australia shares concerns about unsafe and intimidatory actions directed against the Philippines. We continue to call for peace, stability and respect for international law in the South China Sea, a vital international waterway.
China has since defended its actions. In a regular briefing Sunday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said the Philippine vessel had “intruded into the waters off the Ren’ai Reef without Chinese permission” and that the Philippines should “avoid taking any actions that may exacerbate disputes and complicate the situation.”