The Reporter (Vacaville)

US renews warning it'll defend Philippine­s after China spat

- By Jim Gomez

MANILA, PHILIPPINE­S >> The United States renewed a warning that it would defend its treaty ally if Filipino forces come under attack in the disputed South China Sea, after a Chinese coast guard ship allegedly hit a Philippine patrol vessel with military-grade laser that briefly blinded some of its crew.

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. summoned Chinese

Ambassador Huang Xilian in Manila on Tuesday to express his serious concern “over the increasing frequency and intensity of actions by China against the Philippine coast guard and fishermen,” Communicat­ions Secretary Cheloy Garafil said without elaboratin­g.

The Department of Foreign Affairs separately sent a strongly worded diplomatic protest to the Chinese Embassy that “condemned the shadowing, harassment, dangerous maneuvers, directing of military-grade laser, and illegal radio challenges” by the Chinese ship.

The incident took place Feb. 6. when the Chinese coast guard ship beamed high-grade lasers to block the Philippine patrol vessel BRP Malapascua from approachin­g Second Thomas Shoal on a resupply mission to Filipino forces there, according to Philippine officials.

China claims the South

China Sea virtually in its entirety, putting it on a collision course with other claimants. Chinese naval forces have been accused of using military-grade lasers previously against Australian military aircraft on patrol in the South China Sea and other spots in the Pacific.

Despite friendly overtures to Beijing by former Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and his successor, Ferdinand Marcos

Jr., who met Chinese leader Xi Jinping in January in Beijing, tensions have persisted, drawing in closer military alliance between the Philippine­s and the U.S.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokespers­on Wang Wenbin said Monday that a Philippine coast guard vessel trespassed into Chinese waters without permission. Chinese coast guard vessels responded “profession­ally and with restraint at the site in accordance with China's

law and internatio­nal law,” he said, without elaboratin­g or mentioning the use of laser.

U.S. State Department spokespers­on Ned Price said China'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.”

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