South China Sea getting warmer

(To Antonino Lombardi)

This morning it was reported that a Philippine Coast Guard vessel was targeted by a vessel last Monday "military-grade laser" fired from a Chinese fleet vessel in the disputed South China Sea, temporarily blinding several crew members.

The incident occurred about twenty kilometers from Ayungin Shoal, in the Spratly archipelago, where Filipino soldiers are stationed. The patrol boat was participating in a mission to resupply and replace soldiers occupying an abandoned and beached navy vessel to enforce Manila's territorial claims there.

The Chinese ship carried out dangerous maneuvers, approaching about 140 meters from the Philippine vessel. Despite the crash, the mission was accomplished.

Medel Aguilar, spokesman for the Philippine army, called on Beijing to exercise restraint "not to commit any provocative act which would endanger human lives". The coast guard recalled that also in August last year Chinese ships had intercepted and blocked Philippine boats bound for the atoll to supply their soldiers.

On the other hand, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said that the Philippine vessel had breached China's sovereign waters without permission, underlining how its military acted in a professional and measured manner. Senior Philippine Coast Guard officials said the temporary blindness of the on-duty crew lasted 10 to 15 seconds but, at present, they are unable to say whether it will cause long-term side effects.

The presence of the handful of Filipino soldiers aboard the old ship, known as Sierra Madre and stranded since 1999, it is intended to underscore the Philippines' claim to the island chain. The blockade of Philippine ships carrying supplies to the soldiers, according to the Manila authorities, are “a flagrant contempt and clear violation of Philippine sovereign rights in this part of the Western Philippine Sea.”

This isn't the first time China has directed a laser beam at a Philippine ship. In June last year, the tug PCG BRP Habagat, while 10 nautical miles north of Philippine-occupied Panata Island (Lankiam Cay), was dazzled for 20 minutes with a laser from a People's Liberation Army Navy ship.

disputed waters

Beijing claims all islands and atolls and ignores one judgment of the International Court of Justice of 2016. The judges in The Hague had rejected China's claims to economic rights in those parts of the South China Sea, arguing there is no legal basis for your claim. Since 2016, the Philippines has filed 461 diplomatic protests against China over the latter's aggression in the western Philippine Sea, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs. As of Jan. 26, he said there have been 262 diplomatic protests filed from 2016 to 2021, 195 in 2022 and four so far in 2023.

In early February, during a meeting in Manila between US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., Washington and Manila agreed to resume joint patrols in the South China Sea. The Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) was also disclosed1 which allows the US military access to four additional bases in the Philippines in an effort to thwart and deter Beijing's further territorial expansion into the South China Sea, while also providing a place for the US to observe Chinese military movements around Taiwan.

China, of course, has criticized the accord arguing that US policy heightens tension in the region by undermining peace there.

Although it has been stated that the agreement will allow for a faster support for humanitarian and climate disasters in the Philippines, it seems quite clear that the US ultimate goals are quite different. The Philippines, like many other nations, is threatened by Beijing which has established an almost constant presence in the Exclusive Economic Zone of Manila. With the EDCA agreement, the United States seeks to guarantee the Philippines the ability to defend its sovereignty.


Frames: Philippine Coast Guard / CNN