Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos Jr summoned China’s ambassador on Tuesday to express his “serious concern” over China’s actions in the South China Sea and the foreign ministry called on Beijing to stop its vessels’ “aggressive activities”.
The Philippine coastguard said on Monday a Chinese coastguard ship had directed a “military-grade laser” at one of its ships supporting a resupply mission to troops in the disputed waterway on Feb. 6, temporarily blinding its crew on the bridge.
The incident, which followed Marcos’ state visit to China last month, has stoked long-running diplomatic tension between the Philippines and China over the latter’s expansive claims in the South China Sea, which an international tribunal in The Hague invalidated in 2016.
Marcos relayed his concern “over the increasing frequency and intensity of actions by China against the Philippine Coast Guard and our Filipino fishermen”, including its use of “military grade laser” against one of Manila’s vessels, his office said in a statement.
“These acts of aggression by China are disturbing and disappointing,” Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Teresita Daza said in a statement announcing the filing of the diplomatic protest, among the hundreds Manila has lodged against China.
In response, Ambassador Huang Xilian said he discussed with Marcos how to implement the consensus reached by the two countries on managing maritime differences during the Philippine leader’s China visit.
China claims nearly all of the South China Sea, and the waters have become one of many flashpoints in the testy relationship between it and the United States – as well as a source of tension between it and some Southeast Asian countries including the Philippines.
The sea is rich in oil, gas and fish. About $3 trillion in ship-borne trade passes through it annually.
The United States, which supports the 2016 arbitration ruling, said on Monday it stood with the Philippines over the reported laser use.
In a tweet on Tuesday, Japanese Ambassador to the Philippines Koshikawa Kazuhiko also expressed serious concerns about “dangerous behaviour” against Philippine vessels.
“All states should respect maritime order based on international law,” Koshikawa said. “We firmly oppose any action that increase tensions”
The Philippine coastguard was supporting a navy mission to deliver food and supplies to troops on the Second Thomas Shoal, 105 nautical miles (195 km) off the Philippine province of Palawan, in the South China Sea.
Locally known as Ayungin, the shoal is home to a small Philippine military contingent on board a World War Two ship which was intentionally grounded on the shoal in 1999 to reinforce Manila’s sovereignty claims in the Spratly archipelago.