Raises ‘serious concern’ over WPS incidents, PH protests laser action
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Tuesday summoned Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian to express his “serious concern” over Chinese actions in the West Philippine Sea.
“The President summoned Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian this afternoon to express his serious concern over the increasing frequency and intensity of actions by China against the Philippine Coast Guard and our Filipino fishermen…, the latest of which was the deployment of a military grade laser against our Coast Guard vessels,” Presidential Communications Secretary Cheloy Garafil said.
Earlier in the day, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said it filed a diplomatic protest against China after its coast guard beamed a military-grade laser at a Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) ship near Ayungin Shoal on Feb. 6 to disrupt its resupply mission to the reef.
The Chinese embassy, however, downplayed the meeting at the Palace.
“They exchanged views on how to implement the consensus reached by the two heads of state, strengthen dialogue and communication, and properly manage maritime differences between China and the Philippines,” the embassy said in a statement.
The meeting was attended by Defense Secretary Carlito Galvez, Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Andres Centino, Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin, National Security Adviser Eduardo Año, and Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo.
This is the third time Ambassador Huang was summoned by Manila since April 2021, but in the two previous instances, it was the Department of Foreign Affairs which called him to its headquarters.
This is, however, the first time a Philippine president summoned a Chinese ambassador in recent years.
In its protest, the DFA condemned the “the shadowing, harassment, dangerous maneuvers, directing of a military-grade laser, and illegal radio challenges” by the Chinese Coast Guard against PCG vessel BRP Malapascua, which was on its way to resupply the BRP Sierra Madre, a grounded landing ship that is home to a detachment of Philippine marines on the shoal.
The DFA said the actions of the Chinese vessel constituted a threat to Philippine sovereignty and security as a state, and were infringements of its sovereign rights and jurisdiction over its exclusive economic zone.
“The Philippines has the prerogative to conduct legitimate activities within its exclusive economic zone and continental shelf. China does not have law enforcement rights or powers in and around Ayungin Shoal or any part of the Philippine EEZ,” DFA spokesperson Ma. Teresita Daza said.
“These acts of aggression by China are disturbing and disappointing as it closely follows the state visit to China of President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. in early January during which he and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to manage maritime differences through diplomacy and dialogue, without resorting to force and intimidation,” the DFA official added.
The DFA called on China to comply with its obligations under international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the 2016 award in the South China Sea Arbitration and direct its vessels to cease and desist from its aggressive activities against Philippine vessels.”
The diplomatic protest was the eighth filed by the DFA this year. In 2022, it filed a total of 195 diplomatic protests.
Reports said that BRP Malapascua was undertaking a mission in support of the regular rotation and resupply mission for the BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin Shoal, the Philippines’ permanent presence on the feature.
The PCG said the Chinese Coast Guard vessel 5205 interfered with the PCG mission, directing a military-grade laser that caused temporary blindness to Filipino crew members aboard BRP Malapascua.
The Chinese vessel then undertook dangerous maneuvers by approaching at a close distance from BRP Malapascua, risking a collision that endangered the Philippine crew. The Chinese vessel also issued illegal radio challenges that demanded that the Philippine vessel leave the area.
China’s use of a military-grade laser last week was the second time, the PCG said.
In June 2022, the Chinese coast guard shone a blue laser light for about 20 minutes at the tugboat BRP Habagat, which left its crew with temporary blindness and itchy skin, said Commodore Jay Tarriela, PCG’s adviser of the commandant for maritime security.
Earlier, Beijing defended its action, saying that the PCG vessel intruded into the waters off the Ren’ai Reef without Chinese permission.
“In accordance with China’s domestic law and international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the China Coast Guard ship upheld China’s sovereignty and maritime order and acted in a professional and restrained way,” Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Wang Wenbin said.
The United States on Monday criticized China’s reported use of military-grade laser light against a Philippine Coast Guard vessel.
State Department spokesperson Ned Price said the Chinese coast guard’s “conduct was provocative and unsafe, resulting in the temporary blindness of the crew members.” With AFP
“The United States stands with our Philippine allies in the face of the People’s Republic of China Coast Guard’s reported use of laser devices against the crew of a Philippine Coast Guard ship,” Price said.
There has been a series of maritime incidents between the Philippines and China, which claims sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea and has ignored an international court ruling that its claims have no legal basis.
Days before this latest incident, the United States and the Philippines agreed to resume joint patrols in the sea, and struck a deal to give US troops access to another four military bases in the Southeast Asian country.
Price said that China’s “dangerous operational behavior directly threatens regional peace and stability, infringes upon freedom of navigation in the South China Sea … and undermines the rules-based international order.”
The US statement reminded Beijing to abide by the July 2016 “legally binding decision” of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (Arbitral Tribunal) in The Hague, wherein the Court ruled that “the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has no lawful maritime claims to Second Thomas Shoal.”
“The United States reiterates, pursuant to the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention, the 2016 arbitral decision is final and legally binding on the PRC and the Philippines, and we call upon the PRC to abide by the ruling,” Price said.
Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri spoke out against what he called the continued provocations of the Chinese Navy in the West Philippine Sea.
“This is not the first time our troops have been harassed by Chinese forces on our waters,” he said, as he called on China to stop its aggressive intimidation tactics.
Senator Risa Hontiveros accused China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs of lying, saying China cannot claim that its coast guard ship acted in accordance with international law.
“Ayungin Shoal is a territory of the Philippines,” she said. “It does not belong to China. Let’s not call it by its Chinese name. Ayungin is part of the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone. The UNCLOS affirms this. The wider international community recognizes this. It is only China’s authoritarian government that seems to think otherwise.”
“To China’s MOFA, stop lying and stick to the truth: that China is using her military might to justify her blatant and dangerous disregard for international law, with her flimsy historical ‘claim’ as an excuse. Stop with the false narratives, end the lies, and get out of the West Philippine Sea,” she said.
Senator Jinggoy Estrada assailed the latest intimidation tactic employed by the Chinese coast guard against members of the PCG.
Senator Alan Peter Cayetano underscored the need for the government to have a clear strategy on the West Philippine Sea.