A Chinese Coast Guard vessel aimed a powerful military-grade laser at a Filipino patrol boat, temporarily blinding some of its crew the government of The Philippines has said.
The Chinese ship is also reported to have manoeuvred dangerously close to the Philippines patrol vessel BRP Malapascua, coming within 450ft in a bid to block it from approaching Second Thomas Shoal, a reef in a disputed area of the South China Sea.
The confrontation, which occurred on February 6, was a "blatant" violation of Manila's sovereign rights, Filipino government sources said..
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China claims the South China Sea as its exclusive territorial waters, provoking clashes with governments across the region. The Philippines filed nearly 200 diplomatic protests against China's aggressive actions in the disputed waters in 2022 alone.
Despite friendly overtures to Beijing by former Filipino president Rodrigo Duterte and his successor, Ferdinand Marcos Jr, who met Chinese leader Xi Jinping in Beijing in January, tensions have persisted, drawing in closer military alliance between the Philippines and the US.
Although the Chinese coast guard had tried to block Philippines coast guard ships in the disputed waters before, this was the first time it has used lasers and caused physical suffering among Filipino personnel, Philippines coast guard spokesman Commodore Armand Balilo said.
There was no immediate comment from the Chinese Embassy in Manila.
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"The Chinese ship illuminated the green laser light twice toward the BRP Malapascua, causing temporary blindness to her crew at the bridge," the Philippines statement said.
The Filipino vessel was forced to move away from the area, where it was escorting a supply vessel that was delivering food and sailors to a Philippines navy sentry ship, the BRP Sierra Madre, which has been marooned on Second Thomas Shoal since 1999, the coast guard said.
"The deliberate blocking of the Philippine government ships to deliver food and supplies to our military personnel on board the BRP Sierra Madre is a blatant disregard for, and a clear violation of, Philippine sovereign rights in this part of the West Philippine Sea," the coast guard said, using the name the Philippines has adopted for the stretch of water close to its western coast.
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It was not immediately clear if the Philippine resupply mission pushed through despite the incident.
The Chinese coast guard also blocked Philippines ships escorting a supply vessel from approaching Second Thomas Shoal in August, the coast guard said.
In the latest incident, one of the two Chinese ships that were joined by two Chinese civilian vessels removed the cover of its 70mm armament, the coast guard said, adding it would not be deterred by China's aggression in protecting Filipino sovereignty in the disputed sea.
Apart from China and the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei also have overlapping claims in the resource-rich and busy waterway, where a bulk of the world's commerce and oil transits.
The United States lays no claims to the disputed sea but has deployed forces to patrol the waters to promote freedom of navigation and overflight – moves that have angered Beijing, which has warned Washington to stop meddling in what it says is a purely Asian dispute.
The US Navy and Marine Corps held joint exercises in the South China Sea over the weekend at a time of heightened tensions with Beijing over the shooting down of a suspected Chinese spy balloon.
The US has been taking steps to rebuild its military might in the Philippines more than 30 years after the closure of its large bases in the country and reinforcing an arc of military alliances in Asia.
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