Chinese ship accused of using ‘military-grade laser’ against Philippine vessel

Philippines coastguard says crew member temporarily blinded and mission disrupted in South China Sea

The Philippines has accused a Chinese coastguard ship of directing a “military-grade laser light” at one of its vessels, temporarily blinding a crew member and disrupting a mission in the South China Sea.

The Chinese ship shone a green laser light twice towards the boat as it sought to deliberately block a resupply mission, the Philippine coastguard said. It also accused the Chinese vessel of making “dangerous manoeuvres by approaching about 150 yards from the vessel’s starboard quarter”.

A video issued by the Philippine coastguard showed a green laser-like beam of light emitting from a ship in the distance.

WATCH: In an act of "blatant disregard" of the Philippine sovereign rights, the Philippine Coast Guard shares video of Chinese Coast Guard vessel pointing "military grade" laser towards PCG vessel, causing "temporary blindness" of its crew. | @JEMendozaINQ

— Inquirer (@inquirerdotnet) February 13, 2023

The coastguard said the incident, on 6 February, occurred as one of its vessels was trying to support a navy mission to bring food and supplies to its troops at Second Thomas Shoal, a submerged reef in the disputed Spratly Islands, and which is known as Ayungin Shoal in the Philippines.

A small Philippine military contingent is based onboard a rusting former US Navy ship that was deliberately grounded on Second Thomas Shoal in 1999 to mark Manila’s claim to the reef.

The Philippine coastguard said the “deliberate blocking” of its vessel was “a blatant disregard for, and a clear violation of, Philippine sovereign rights”.

The Chinese coastguard also blocked Philippine ships from reaching Second Thomas Shoal during a mission in August, the coastguard in Manila said.

China claims sovereignty over almost all of the South China Sea, a resource-rich water way and crucial transit route for oil. However, the Philippines, as well as Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei all have claims to parts of the sea, making it a potential flashpoint.

China’s foreign ministry responded by saying its coastguard acted in accordance with the law.

“We urge the Philippines to avoid such actions, and the actions of China’s staff are professional and restrained,” China’s foreign ministry spokesperson, Wang Wenbin, told a regular briefing.

China has previously been accused of directing lasers in the region, including by Australia which said a military-grade laser was shone at one of its air force planes as it conducted coastal maritime surveillance last year.

The Philippines military spokesperson, Medel Aguilar, told reporters it was time the Chinese government “restrain its forces so that it does not commit any provocative act that will endanger the lives of people”, Reuters reported.

Earlier this month, the Philippines granted the US expanded access to its military bases in “strategic areas of the country”, greatly enhancing Washington’s presence in the region.

The Philippine president also visited Japan, a US ally, last week to strengthen defence ties. In December, Japan approved its biggest military buildup since the second world war amid growing concern over Chinese assertiveness.


Rebecca Ratcliffe in Bangkok

The GuardianTramp

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