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Philippines summons China envoy over maritime laser incident

February 14, 2023

Manila filed a diplomatic protest against Beijing after an incident in the South China Sea. The US warned that it would defend its ally if Filipino forces were attacked.

A handout picture from the Philippine Coast Guard showing a Chinese Coast Guard vessel allegedly shining a laser light on the South China Sea
The Philippines lodged a diplomatic protest after a Chinese Coast Guard vessel allegedly shone a laser light at one of its vessels on the South China SeaImage: Philippine Coast Guard/AFP

Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos Jr on Tuesday summoned China's ambassador to voice "serious" concern over alleged "acts of aggression" against the Philippine Coast Guard in the South China Sea.

On Monday, the Philippine Coast Guard accused China of  trying to block one of its ships by using a "military-grade laser light."

Teresita Daza, the spokeswoman of the Department of Foreign Affairs described the act as "disturbing and disappointing."

'Sovereignty and security' have been threatened — Manila

According to the Philippine Coast Guard, the patrol boat was supporting a "rotation and resupply mission" when a Chinese Coast Cuard vessel shone a green laser at the bridge of the Philippine ship, forcing it off course.

Manila said that the Chinese vessel "undertook dangerous maneuvers", "risked a collision" and endangered the Filipino crew.

It said Beijing's actions were a "threat to Philippine sovereignty and security as a state and are infringements of its sovereign rights and jurisdiction over its exclusive economic zone."

The department also reminded China that when  President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. had met the Chinese President Xi Jinping in January, the two had "agreed to manage maritime differences through diplomacy and dialogue."

China, Philippines agree to 'manage differences'

China's Foreign Ministry on Monday defended its coast guard and said that all its actions were in accordance with the law. Wang Wenbin, China's Foreign Ministry spokesperson described the actions of the Chinese staff as "professional and restrained."

US backs Philippines, warns China

The United States warned that it would defend its ally if any Filipino forces came under armed attack in the disputed South China Sea.

A 1951 treaty  obliges the allies to help defend one another in case of an external attack.

US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said that China's "dangerous operational behavior" violated international law and "directly threatens regional peace, stability."

A US aircraft carrier with a fleet of fighter jets sailing on South China Sea.
The US warned that it would defend its treaty ally if any Filipino forces came under armed attack from Chinese forces. Image: ABACA/picture alliance

Apart from China and Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei also lay overlapping claims in the resource-rich waterway.

Washington has no claim to the disputed sea but has deployed forces to patrol the region to promote freedom of navigation.

Beijing had previously demanded that the US should stop meddling in what it says is a purely Asian dispute. 

A history of dispute

China and the Philippines have been embroiled in a territorial dispute over the waterway, where Beijing took over several areas and built artificial islands with military facilities.

China ignored a 2016 ruling by an international court, in relation to a case filed by the Philippines, that it had no legal or historical basis for expanding in the area.

Philippines' foreign ministry data reveals that Manila has filed 203 diplomatic notes against China since last year.

ns/kb (dpa, AP, Reuters)