HONG KONG (CNN) The Philippine Coast Guard has accused a Chinese coast guard ship of shining a “military” laser at some of its crew members aboard a ship in contested waters of southern China last week, temporarily blinding them.
The Chinese ship also made “dangerous maneuvers” as it approached within 150 yards (137 meters) of the Philippine ship, the Philippine Coast Guard claimed in a statement posted on its official Facebook page. with photos purportedly showing the laser’s green beam.
The incident allegedly took place on February 6 near Ayungin Shoal, also known as Second Thomas Shoal, in the chain of Spratly Islands, known as the Nansha Islands in China. China calls the shoal Renai Reef.
China’s Foreign Ministry said Monday the Filipino ship “entered the waters of the Renai Reef without permission from the Chinese side.”
“The Chinese Maritime Police ship defended China’s sovereignty and maritime order in accordance with China’s domestic and international law,” spokesman Wang Wenbin said, without specifying what measures the Chinese side has taken.
China claims “indisputable sovereignty” over almost all of the 1.3 million square kilometer South China Sea, as well as most of the islands within it. These include the Spratlys, an archipelago made up of 100 small islands and reefs that are also claimed in whole or in part by the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.
The Philippines dubs the area the West Philippine Sea and in 1999 deliberately detained a Navy transport vessel, the BRP Sierra Madre, on the Second Thomas Shoal, which is still manned by Philippine marines to assert Manila’s claim to the territory.
In the Feb. 6 incident, the Philippine ship BRP Malapascua was on a mission to resupply the Sierra Madre when it was challenged by the Chinese ship, according to the Philippine publication.
“The Chinese ship twice illuminated the green laser light in the direction of the BRP Malapascua, temporarily blinding her crew on the bridge. The Chinese ship also made dangerous maneuvers by approaching about 150 meters from the ship’s starboard side,” the press release said.
“The deliberate blocking of Philippine government vessels delivering food and supplies to our military personnel aboard the BRP Sierra Madre is a blatant disregard and a clear violation of Philippine sovereignty rights in this part of the Western Philippine Sea.”
The Philippine Coast Guard claims a Chinese Coast Guard vessel aimed a laser at a Philippine vessel on February 6. The Philippine Coast Guard claims a Chinese ship aimed a laser at a Philippine ship in the Spratly chain on February 6.
Previous suspected laser incidents
Allegations of Chinese ships aiming lasers as enemy ships have surfaced before.
In February 2022, Australia claimed that a People’s Liberation Army warship “illuminated” an Australian P-8A aircraft, a reconnaissance and anti-submarine aircraft, as it flew over the Arafura Sea, the body of water between Australia’s Northern Territory and the island New Guinea in the north.
At the time, China said the Australian claims were “not true”.
“The normal navigation of the Chinese ship on the high seas is in accordance with relevant international law and practice, and is fully legitimate and lawful,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang said last year.
In May 2019, Australian pilots said they had been repeatedly attacked by commercial lasers during missions over the South China Sea.
And in a June 2018 report, US military officials told CNN that there had been at least 20 suspected Chinese laser incidents in the eastern Pacific from September 2017 to June 2018.
The alleged Feb. 6 incident came just days after Manila, which has a mutual defense agreement with Washington, announced plans to allow the US military access to more bases in the Philippines.
On Feb. 2, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Mao Ning said the move “escalates tensions in the region and jeopardizes peace and stability in the region.”
The United States has no territorial claims in the South China Sea, but US military vessels routinely operate in the waterway in accordance with international law and the freedom of the high seas.
Last year, a US State Department statement specifically mentioned Second Thomas Shoal when it called on China to “cease its provocative actions and respect international law in the South China Sea.”
Beijing has “encroached on Philippine sovereignty rights within the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone near Second Thomas Shoal,” according to the June 17, 2022 statement.
The Philippine Coast Guard statement on Monday said Chinese ships also blocked a Philippine supply mission in the Sierra Madre last August.
The Philippine Coast Guard commander said his service would not be deterred by Chinese actions in alleged Philippine waters.
“Despite the dangerous maneuvers of the much larger (Chinese) ships and their aggressive actions at sea, the (Philippine Coast Guard) ships will always be in the western Philippine Sea to maintain our presence and assert our sovereign rights,” said Adm. Artermo M Said Abu.