The United States is warning it will stand with and defend the Philippines after reports that Beijing’s Coast Guard used laser devices to temporarily blind the crew of a Philippine Coast Guard ship, according to the State Department.
State Department spokesperson Ned Price called China’s conduct “provocative and unsafe” and said it interfered with the Philippines’ “lawful operations” in the South China Sea.
“More broadly, the PRC’s dangerous operational behavior directly threatens regional peace and stability, infringes upon freedom of navigation in the South China Sea as guaranteed under international law, and undermines the rules-based international order,” Price said.
The crew of the BRP Malapascua was allegedly temporarily blinded by the laser devices as the ship sailed around Second Thomas Shoal, a submerged reef in the South China Sea to which the U.S. says China has “no lawful maritime claims.”
The Philippines Coast Guard says that the “green laser light” illuminated twice and the Chinese vessel “made dangerous maneuvers” in the water, blocking the delivery of food and supplies to military personnel aboard the BRP Sierra Madre, a ship intentionally grounded on the shoal, in what the Philippines says is “a blatant disregard for, and a clear violation of, Philippine sovereign rights.”
“The United States stands with our Philippine allies in upholding the rules-based international maritime order and reaffirms an armed attack on Philippine armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft, including those of the Coast Guard in the South China Sea, would invoke U.S. mutual defense commitments,” Price asserted, citing a 1951 mutual defense treaty.
An international tribunal decided in 2016 that China has no claims to the area, and is legally bound to abide by the ruling. But China has rejected the ruling and now contends that the Philippines ship trespassed into the waters of the shoal, which it calls Renai Reef, without Beijing’s permission, according to CNN.