Philippines files diplomatic protest over Chinese laser incident

Update 1: Adds Philippine diplomatic response, changes headline

Manila, Feb 14 (EFE).- The Philippine Foreign Ministry filed a diplomatic protest Tuesday against China over the complaint by the Philippine Coast Guard that one of its ships was targeted with a blinding laser from a Chinese patrol boat in the South China Sea.

The letter “condemns the harassment, dangerous maneuvers” and the use of a “military laser” by a Chinese patrol boat against a Philippine coast guard ship in the vicinity of Ayungin Atoll, in the Spratly archipelago, where China and the Philippines dispute the sovereignty of various territories.

The Philippines filed 195 diplomatic protests against China in 2022, while it registers eight so far this year.

The United States Embassy in the Philippines said China’s behavior was “provocative” and “dangerous,” after the country’s coastguard denounced the use of a laser from a Chinese patrol boat on one of its ships in the South China Sea, scene of territorial disputes.

“China’s attitude directly threatens regional peace and stability, infringes on the freedom of navigation in the South China Sea (…) and undermines the rules-based international order,” the Embassy said Tuesday in a statement.

Hours earlier, the US State Department in Washington issued a message of support for Manila along the same lines.

The incident, which occurred on Feb. 6, was denounced Monday by the Philippine coast guard, which accused a Chinese coastal patrol of escalating its methods of harassment by using a blinding laser, “probably for military use,” against one of its ships near Ayungin Atoll in the South China Sea.

The Ayungin Atoll, which the Philippines occupies, is less than 200 miles (about 322 kilometers) from the west coast of Palawan, southwest of the archipelago and within the exclusive economic area of the Philippines.

“The Philippines has the right to carry out legitimate activities in its exclusive economic zone (…) China does not have the power or right to circulate around Ayungin Atoll or any part of the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines,” Teresita Daza, Philippine Foreign Affairs Department Spokeswoman said Tuesday.

Daza’s reaction follows a Monday comment by the Chinese Foreign Ministry, saying its coast guard “operated professionally and with restraint” when a Philippine vessel entered in the waters of the Ren’ai reef (as China refers to Ayungin Atoll) “without permission,” which Beijing claims.

This episode comes at a particularly delicate moment, a week after the Philippines and the US signed an agreement that guarantees American troops access to four new military bases in Philippine “strategic” areas, which China said “aggravates tensions in Asia.”

China and the Philippines maintain a conflict over the sovereignty of several islands and atolls in the South China Sea, which Beijing claims almost entirely for alleged historical reasons, part of those territories also being disputed with Malaysia, Vietnam, Taiwan and Brunei.

Meanwhile, the US seeks to counteract Beijing’s moves in key waters for world trade and rich in natural resources, amid the struggle both countries maintain to increase their influence in the Pacific. EFE


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