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Saturday, April 13, 2024

‘Dangerous Behavior’: China Coast Guard Deploys Laser That Temporarily Blinds Philippine Coast Guard Crew

DoD will "redouble its efforts with our Philippine ally to bolster the defense capabilities of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine Coast Guard."

China’s coast guard temporarily blinded the crew of a Philippine Coast Guard ship with a military-grade laser beam in the disputed South China Sea, prompting the United States to blast China’s “provocative and unsafe” maritime behavior.

The Feb. 6 incident occurred when the Philippine patrol vessel BRP Malapascua was approaching Second Thomas Shoal while escorting a resupply mission to a Philippine Navy sentry ship. The China Coast Guard ship came less than 500 feet from the Philippine ship and “illuminated the green laser light twice toward the BRP Malapascua, causing temporary blindness to her crew at the bridge,” Philippine Coast Guard said in a statement this week. “The Chinese vessel also made dangerous maneuvers by approaching about 150 yards from the vessel’s starboard quarter.”

“The deliberate blocking of the Philippine government ships to deliver food and supplies to our military personnel on board the BRP Sierra Madre is a blatant disregard for, and a clear violation of, Philippine sovereign rights in this part of the West Philippine Sea,” the coast guard said.

While China has previously tried to block ships in the region, Philippine officials said this was the first use of a laser and injury to their personnel. In August, multiple Chinese vessels formed a blockade and Chinese Maritime Militia vessels “even deployed their utility boats to support the blockade and shadowing” by the China Coast Guard.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin claimed that the Philippine Coast Guard vessel trespassed into China’s territorial waters and told the Philippines to “avoid any actions that may lead to the expansion of the dispute and complication of the situation.”

Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder tweeted Wednesday that “DoD stands in solidarity with our Philippine ally following a recent incident in which the China Coast Guard directed a military-grade laser at a Philippine Coast Guard ship conducting a routine resupply mission at Second Thomas Shoal, endangering the safety of those on board.”

“The PRC’s actions stand in direct opposition to the United States’, the Philippines’, and likeminded nations’ commitment to sovereignty and international law, including the 2016 Arbitral Tribunal ruling which unequivocally rejects PRC claims to Second Thomas Shoal,” Ryder continued. “The United States remains unwavering in its mutual defense commitments. An armed attack on Philippine armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft anywhere in the South China Sea would invoke U.S. mutual defense commitments under Article IV of the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty.”

“The Department will redouble its efforts with our Philippine ally to bolster the defense capabilities of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine Coast Guard as we work shoulder-to-shoulder to uphold the rules-based international order,” he added.

State Department spokesman Ned Price said Monday that China’s “conduct was provocative and unsafe, resulting in the temporary blindness of the crewmembers of the BRP Malapascua and interfering with the Philippines’ lawful operations in and around Second Thomas Shoal.”

“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 Defense Department’s annual report to Congress, Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China, said that over the past decade China has “employed a more coercive approach to deal with several disputes over maritime features, ownership of potentially rich offshore oil and gas deposits, and border areas,” including overlapping claims with Japan in the East China Sea and China’s claim of the Spratly and Paracel Islands in the South China Sea, with the PRC using its navy, coast guard, and maritime militia to patrol the region — Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam have rejected China’s claims and asserted their maritime sovereignty.

The “rapid expansion and modernization” of the China Coast Guard “has made it the largest maritime law enforcement fleet in the world,” with a 2019 study published by the U.S. Naval War College estimating that the CCG has more than 140 regional and oceangoing patrol vessels of more than 1,000 tons displacement — some of these are former naval vessels that were transferred to the coast guard. “The newer, larger vessels are equipped with helicopter facilities, high-capacity water cannons, interceptor boats, and guns ranging from 20 to 76 millimeters,” the report continues. “In addition, the same academic study indicates the CCG operates more than 120 regional patrol combatants (500 to 999 tons), which can be used for limited offshore operations, and an additional 450 coastal patrol craft (100 to 499 tons).”

The People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia is an armed reserve force with units that “vary widely in composition and mission.” Its vessels train with and assist China’s navy and coast guard “in tasks such as safeguarding maritime claims, surveillance and reconnaissance, fisheries protection, logistics support, and search and rescue.”

“China employs the PAFMM in gray zone operations, or ‘low-intensity maritime rights protection struggles,’ at a level designed to frustrate effective response by the other parties involved,” the report states. “China employs PAFMM vessels to advance its disputed sovereignty claims, often amassing them in disputed areas throughout the South and East China Seas. In this manner, the PAFMM plays a major role in coercive activities to achieve China’s political goals without fighting, and these operations are part of broader Chinese military theory that sees confrontational operations short of war as an effective means of accomplishing strategic objectives.”

These maritime militia vessels are “often used to supplement CCG cutters at the forefront” of maritime incidents, “giving the Chinese the capacity to outweigh and outlast rival claimants.” They also protect and enable Chinese fishing vessels operating in disputed waters; mainland-based maritime militia units that routinely operate in the Spratly Islands and southern South China Sea “are enabled by increased funding from the PRC government to improve their maritime capabilities and grow their ranks of personnel.” Days jobs of maritime militia members include marine industry work such as fishing, yet one militia unit in the Paracel Islands “has developed into a salaried full-time maritime militia force equipped with at least 84 purpose-built vessels armed with mast-mounted water cannons for spraying and reinforced steel hulls for ramming along with their own command center.”

author avatar
Bridget Johnson
Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a terrorism analyst and security consultant with a specialty in online open-source extremist propaganda, incitement, recruitment, and training. She hosts and presents in Homeland Security Today law enforcement training webinars studying a range of counterterrorism topics including conspiracy theory extremism, complex coordinated attacks, critical infrastructure attacks, arson terrorism, drone and venue threats, antisemitism and white supremacists, anti-government extremism, and WMD threats. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15 and a private investigator. Bridget is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Observer, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera, BBC and SiriusXM.
Bridget Johnson
Bridget Johnson
Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a terrorism analyst and security consultant with a specialty in online open-source extremist propaganda, incitement, recruitment, and training. She hosts and presents in Homeland Security Today law enforcement training webinars studying a range of counterterrorism topics including conspiracy theory extremism, complex coordinated attacks, critical infrastructure attacks, arson terrorism, drone and venue threats, antisemitism and white supremacists, anti-government extremism, and WMD threats. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15 and a private investigator. Bridget is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Observer, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera, BBC and SiriusXM.

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