PH rejects China claim: Laser use ‘destabilizing,’ unrestrained

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 17) — The government on Friday said China’s use of military-grade laser against a Philippine ship in the West Philippine Sea destabilizes peace in the region and is neither professional nor restrained, contrary to Beijing’s insistence.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said it stood by the report of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) on the incident near Ayungin Shoal (PCG) after China said that the account “does not reflect the truth.”

“We are calling on China to desist and refrain from this action kasi hindi lang po ito damaging and dangerous (because it is not only damaging and dangerous), it is also destabilizing in terms of the peace and stability in the region,” DFA spokesperson Ma. Teresita Daza said in a briefing.

According to the PCG, a Chinese Coast Guard vessel aimed a military-grade laser at its ship BRP Malapascua on Feb. 6, temporarily blinding crew members. China said the act was “restrained” and later claimed it merely used a hand-held laser speed detector and green light pointer which supposedly does not inflict damage.

“To harass, to shadow, to actually put in danger not only the vessel but the crew, and more important, to actually target and point a military-grade laser not just once but twice, actually is not restrained in all accounts,” Daza said.

She said China’s “aggressive” conduct violates existing laws “both in UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) as well as in terms of navigation.”

The DFA reiterated that Ayungin Shoal is part of the Philippines' exclusive economic zone (EEZ), which means the country is entitled to exercise sovereign rights and jurisdiction in the area without any intervention from another nation.

“Yung Ayungin Shoal po is (Ayungin Shoal is) 105 nautical miles from west of Palawan, compared to China which is about 694 nautical miles,” Daza noted.

However, Beijing continues to assert that the shoal is part of its territory, refusing to acknowledge the 2016 arbitral ruling in The Hague which invalidated its sweeping claims over the South China Sea. The ruling also declared that Ayungin is part of the Philippines' continental shelf and EEZ.

During the briefing, the DFA also pointed out that the use of the blinding laser happened after President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. met with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing in January, where both countries agreed to address differences in the disputed seas in a diplomatic manner.

“This incident is not consistent with that, and that's exactly why the protest was launched,” Daza said.

Earlier this week, the government filed a diplomatic protest against China over its laser use — the ninth such protest lodged against the East Asian giant this year alone.

In 2022, Daza said Manila filed a total of 195 diplomatic protests against Beijing, 76 of which were issued during the Marcos administration.

Marcos also summoned Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian on Tuesday to express serious concern over the "increasing frequency and intensity” of Chinese actions against the country’s coast guard and fishermen in the West Philippine Sea.