On Feb. 13, the U.S. Department of State 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 on Feb. 6. The mission was 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 that the Chinese Coast Guard ship used a laser against the Philippine vessel, temporarily blinding members of its crew on the bridge.
In a statement, department spokesperson Ned Price said, “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.” Price reminded China of the outcome of the international tribunal in July 2016, which concluded that Beijing has no lawful maritime claims on the Second Thomas Shoal. He also confirmed that the U.S. will uphold the international maritime order of the region, adding that any violations “would invoke U.S. mutual defense commitments.”
In response to the event, the Armed Forces of the Philippines issued a terse statement saying that 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.” Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. then summoned Beijing’s Ambassador Huang Xilian to discuss the incident on Feb. 14 and express his “serious concern.” China’s embassy in the Philippines said the officials talked about how to “properly manage maritime differences between China and the Philippines.” Before the meeting, China’s foreign ministry said that the actions of its coast guard were in accordance with the law, but Beijing has neither specifically confirmed nor denied using lasers against the PCG vessel. Images captured during the event show a green and red light emanating from a Chinese ship with the number 5205 on its bow. This is not 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.