The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) recently reported a concerning encounter with a Chinese coast guard ship. On February 6th, the PCG vessel was conducting a routine rotation and resupply mission for the Philippine Navy in Ayungin Shoal in the West Philippine Sea. During the mission, the Chinese Coast Guard ship, designated as No. 5205, directed a “military-grade” laser towards the PCG vessel, the BRP Malapascua, putting the Filipino crew in danger.
According to the PCG, the Chinese ship illuminated a green light twice towards the BRP Malapascua, which caused temporary blindness to the crew members on duty at the bridge or main command center. This occurred when the PCG ship was 19.5 kilometers (10 nautical miles) from the shoal.
The PCG commandant, Adm. Artemio Abu, strongly condemned this behavior, stating that “The PCG condemns any actions that harm and jeopardize the safety of everyone regardless of nationality.”
Furthermore, the Chinese ship crossed the bow of the PCG ship from a distance of 7.4 km (4 nautical miles), which was interpreted as a warning for the BRP Malapascua to alter its course. This was followed by dangerous maneuvers, with the Chinese coast guard ship coming within close proximity of the Philippine vessel. Throughout the encounter, radio challenges were exchanged, with the Chinese coast guard warning the Philippine ship that it was “in the jurisdiction of the People’s Republic of China.”
Ayungin Shoal, a submerged reef located 194 km off Palawan province, is within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, where the Philippine Navy maintains its presence through the BRP Sierra Madre. However, China claims almost all of the South China Sea, including the West Philippine Sea.
Commodore Jay Tarriela, PCG adviser of the commandant for maritime security, shared that this was not the first time that China directed a laser beam at a Philippine ship. In June of last year, the PCG tugboat BRP Habagat was “shadowed and harassed” by a People’s Liberation Army Navy vessel. The Chinese navy ship directed its searchlight at the BRP Habagat for 20 minutes and flashed “blue-colored lights with blinkers” at the tugboat’s bridge, which resulted in momentary blindness and skin irritation among the crew on duty.
The reported incidents follow a pattern of Chinese forces harassing other countries with lasers. In 2021, the Australian government claimed that a Chinese warship aimed its laser at a Royal Australian Air Force jet 105 km from Australia’s northern coast, however, China denied this.
In recent years, Beijing has attempted to prevent the Philippine Navy’s resupply missions in Ayungin Shoal and has displayed new tactics in recent months. Except for small wooden boats chartered by the Navy, the Chinese Coast Guard has prevented Philippine military and law enforcement vessels from entering the shoal. Last August, the same Chinese coast guard ship that directed the laser towards the Philippine ship last week, removed the cover of its 70 mm naval gun after the BRP Teresa Magbanua crossed the blockade created by Chinese vessels. The PCG considers this behavior to be an act of provocation.
Despite the dangerous maneuvers and aggressive actions at sea by the Chinese Coast Guard, Adm. Abu stated that the PCG “will always be in the West Philippine Sea to sustain our presence and assert our sovereign rights.” The Philippine government has been protesting these incidents of harassment, however, they have received very little reaction from China. In fact, since 2016, the Philippines has filed 461 diplomatic protests against China’s aggression in the West Philippine Sea,