China Claims Intimidation After U.S. Backs Philippines in Laser Incident

China has denied accusations that its maritime forces engaged in unprofessional behavior in the South China Sea after images published by the Philippines showed a Chinese vessel deploying a high-power laser earlier this month.

The Philippine Coast Guard said the crew of one of its patrol boats was temporarily blinded by the "military-grade laser" during the encounter on February 6.

Manila lodged protests over the incident, which happened during a resupply mission to Philippine-controlled Second Thomas Shoal, an atoll in the contested Spratly Islands also claimed by Beijing.

Wang Wenbin, China's foreign ministry spokesperson, said Tuesday that descriptions of the incident were incorrect. "We would like to stress again that what the China Coast Guard did was professional and restrained," he said.

China Ship Directs Laser At Philippine Boat
China Ship Directs Laser At Philippine Boat
This image published by the Philippine Coast Guard on February 13, 2023, shows a China Coast Guard vessel illuminating a Philippine boat with a “military-grade laser” on February 6, near Second Thomas Shoal, part of the contested Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.

A day earlier, after the Philippines publicized images showing the Chinese ship's use of the green laser beam, Wang said the Philippine vessel had "intruded into the waters" off Second Thomas Shoal without permission, despite Manila's de facto control over the atoll via a naval outpost.

The Chinese official also accused the United States of intimidation after the U.S. State Department publicly backed the Philippines by reaffirming that an armed attack on Philippine forces, including those of its coast guard in the South China Sea, would trigger U.S. mutual defense commitments.

"The U.S. invokes its Mutual Defense Treaty with the Philippines at every turn in an attempt to intimidate China, but it will not weaken our resolve and will to safeguard China's legitimate and lawful rights and interests," Wang said.

The Chinese government claims large swathes of the South China Sea and its many features as part of its "nine-dash line," assertions that were rejected by a 2016 ruling in The Hague. Beijing insists the high-profile case was politically motivated and refuses to recognize its outcome.

On Tuesday, after President Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines summoned Beijing's envoy to Manila, Huang Xilian, over the latest incident, the Chinese embassy said the two discussed how to "properly manage maritime differences."

Teresita Daza, a spokesperson for the Philippine foreign affairs department, said a separate diplomatic protest filed the same day "condemned the shadowing, harassment, dangerous maneuvers, directing of military-grade laser and illegal radio challenges" by the Chinese coast guard.

"These acts of aggression by China are disturbing and disappointing as it closely follows the state visit to China of President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. in early January during which he and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to manage maritime differences through diplomacy and dialogue, without resorting to force and intimidation," Daza said in a statement.

China has sought to contain its long-running disputes with the Philippines and other maritime neighbors to the bilateral level. But, like other nations outmatched by China, the Philippines has welcomed international support.

Kazuhiko Koshikawa and Hae Kyong Yu, the respective ambassadors of Japan and Australia to Manila, both issued statements this week in support of the Philippines and the 2016 arbitration verdict.

Do you have a tip on a world news story that Newsweek should be covering? Do you have a question about South China Sea disputes? Let us know via