After a Chinese coast guard ship allegedly struck a Philippine patrol vessel with a military-grade laser, temporarily blinding part of its crew, the United States issued a fresh warning that it would defend its treaty ally if Filipino forces came under attack in the disputed South China Sea.
Without going into further detail, Communications Secretary Cheloy Garafil stated that President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. summoned Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian to Manila on Tuesday to express his grave concern “over the increasing frequency and intensity of actions by China against the Philippine coast guard and fishermen.”
Separately, the Department of Foreign Affairs delivered a stern diplomatic protest to the Chinese Embassy in which it “condemned the stalking, harassing, risky maneuvers, directing of military-grade laser, and illegal radio challenges” by the Chinese ship.
On February 6, the incident happened when, by Philippine authorities, the Chinese coast guard ship fired high-powered lasers to prevent the Philippine patrol ship BRP Malapascua from getting close to Second Thomas Shoal to supply Filipino forces stationed there.
China’s practically complete claim to the South China Sea puts them in conflict with other claimants. Australian military aircraft on patrol in the South China Sea and other locations in the Pacific have allegedly faced laser attacks from Chinese naval forces.
Even after former Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and his successor, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., met with Chinese leader Xi Jinping in Beijing in January, tensions remained, leading to a closer military alliance between the Philippines and China.
A Philippine coast guard vessel entered Chinese seas without authorization, according to Wang Wenbin, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, on Monday. He claimed, without going into detail or mentioning the use of laser, that Chinese coast guard warships responded: “professionally and with restraint at the location in compliance with China’s law and international law.”
The U.S. The South China Sea’s freedom of navigation is guaranteed by international law, and China’s “dangerous operational behavior directly threatens regional peace and stability, infringes upon that right, and undermines the rules-based international order,” according to State Department spokesperson Ned Price.
Price stated, “The United States stands with our Philippine allies.”
According to him, the United States would be obligated to provide a mutual defense under a 1951 pact in case of an armed attack on Philippine military forces, civilian aircraft, or ships, including those of the coast guard, in the South China Sea.
The allies are required by the treaty to assist one another in self-defense in the event of an outside invasion.
Aside from China and the Philippines, other nations with overlapping claims in the bustling, resource-rich waterway through which much of the world’s trade and oil pass include Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Brunei.
Beijing has cautioned Washington to cease meddling in what it argues is a fundamentally Asian matter, despite Washington making no claims to the disputed sea and instead sending forces to monitor the waterways to promote freedom of navigation and overflight.
The disputed waters have developed into an explosive front in the more significant conflict between China and the United States in Asia and elsewhere.
Price claimed that the “provocative and dangerous” behavior of the Chinese coast guard prevented the Philippines from conducting “lawful operations” in and near Second Thomas Shoal.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged China to abide by a 2016 arbitration decision that rejected Beijing’s expansive territorial claims in the South China Sea and cautioned that Washington was required by the Mutual Defense Treaty to defend the Philippines.
China has long disputed the decision and continues to disobey it. On Monday, Price reaffirmed that the “legally binding decision” underlined that China “had no lawful maritime rights over the Second Thomas Shoal.”
In 2022 alone, the Philippines lodged around 200 diplomatic concerns about China’s assertive behavior in the disputed waters.