US Condemns China Over Laser Attack on Philippine Coast Guard Ship


The U.S. Department of State, on Feb. 13, officially condemned China’s reported use of a “military-grade laser” on a Philippine Coast Guard ship during a resupply mission in the South China Sea.

The event took place on Feb. 6 during an attempt to deliver food and supplies to a military outpost on the remote Second Thomas Shoal within the politically disputed waters of the Spratly Islands.

Manila officials reported a Chinese Coast Guard ship used a laser against the Philippine vessel, temporarily blinding members of its crew on the bridge.

The State Department responded to Beijing’s actions on Feb. 13, calling them “provocative and unsafe.”

“The United States stands with our Philippine allies in the face of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) Coast Guard’s reported use of laser devices against the crew of a Philippine Coast Guard ship,” department spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement.

In the brief, Price reminded China of the outcome of the international tribunal in July 2016. The resolution concluded Beiing has no lawful maritime claims on the 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 confirmed the United States will uphold the international maritime order of the region, adding that any violations “would invoke U.S. mutual defense commitments.”

Chinese coast guard
A Chinese coast guard ship at the Second Thomas Shoal, 105 nautical miles off the Palawan Province, Philippines, on Feb. 6, 2023. (Philippine Coast Guard/Handout via Reuters)

The Armed Forces of the Philippines issued a terse response to the event.

“The deliberate blocking of the Philippine government ships to deliver food and supplies to our military personnel … is a blatant disregard for, and a clear violation of, Philippine sovereign rights,” a Coast Guard spokesperson said in an official statement.

In response to the “increasing frequency and intensity of actions” of China against the PCG, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. summoned Beijing’s Ambassador Huang Xilian to discuss the incident on Feb. 14.

Marcos expressed “serious concern” over the laser event, according to spokeswoman Cheloy Velicaria-Garafil.

China’s embassy in the Philippines said the officials talked about how to “properly manage maritime differences between China and the Philippines.”

Before the Feb. 14 meeting between the Philippine head of state and Xilian, China’s foreign ministry said that the actions of its coast guard were in accordance with the law. Beijing has neither specifically confirmed nor denied using lasers against the PCG vessel.

However, images captured during the event show a green and red light emanating from a Chinese ship with the number 5205 on its bow.

This isn’t the first time in recent years China has reportedly used lasers against sovereign nations in the Indo-Pacific region. In February 2022, Australian officials reported an “act of intimidation” after a Chinese naval ship shot a laser beam at a military surveillance aircraft.

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