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China's use of military grade laser 'a show of force': expert

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A Chinese vessel's use of a military-grade laser light at a Philippine Coast Guard vessel is a show of force that could be viewed as a form of electronic warfare, a national security expert said Wednesday. 

Dr Chester Cabalza, International Development an Security Cooperation
founding president, said China's use of the military grade laser light is a violation of coastal protocol, which could have had health implications to the crew of the BRP Malapascua.

"Definitely it is a show of force at gusto rin i-experiment ng China yung bagong technology nila although itong technology nila, that will fall under electronic warfare," he said in a Teleradyo interview. 

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Cabalza said the Chinese vessel should not have used military-grade laser light since the Coast Guard is civilian in nature. "They should not use weaponries that can cause harm" he said in Filipino. 

He noted that China could be using its technology for surveillance including listening in on conversations on Philippine vessels.

"Pwedeng in-e-experiment ng China ito for possible use ng technology nila. Mapapansin naman natin na during times of conflicts, nag e eksperimento ang bawat bansa para magamit nila ang kanilang mga teknolohiya so that in times of war, they could already simulate it," he added. 

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has summoned Beijing's ambassador Tuesday to express "serious concern" after a Chinese security vessel was accused of using a military-grade laser light against a Philippine patrol boat in the disputed South China Sea.

The confrontation marks an escalation in the diplomatic row, after the Philippine foreign ministry earlier filed a protest to the Chinese embassy condemning the "aggressive" actions of the Chinese coastguard vessel that it said left Filipino crew members temporarily blinded.

Marcos confronted Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian on Tuesday "over the increasing frequency and intensity of actions by China against Philippine Coast Guard and our Filipino fishermen", spokeswoman Cheloy Velicaria-Garafil said.

The laser incident happened on February 6 nearly 20 kilometres (12 miles) from Second Thomas Shoal in the Spratly Islands, where Philippine marines are stationed in a derelict navy ship grounded to assert Manila's territorial claim in the waters. 

It is the latest in a series of maritime incidents between the Philippines and China, which claims sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea and has ignored an international court ruling that its claims have no legal basis.

In the interview, Cabalza said Marcos' summons of China's envoy was the correct move, considering that it was the second time Beijing had used military grade laser light on Philippine vessels. 

"Tama lang na pinatawag ang ambassador ng China sa Pilipinas para malaman natin kung bakit nagiging violent ang China nitong mga nakaraang mga araw," he said. 

However, he also noted that the incident should not be used to invoke the Mutual Defense Treaty between the Philippines and the United States. 

"Find more evidence at masyado pa premature to invoke ang MDT," he said. 

State Department spokesperson Ned Price earlier said the Chinese Coast Guard's "conduct was provocative and unsafe, resulting in the temporary blindness of the crew members." 

"The United States stands with our Philippine allies in the face of the People's Republic of China Coast Guard’s reported use of laser devices against the crew of a Philippine Coast Guard ship," Price said.

For its part, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Wang Wenbin claimed that the PCG vessel entered the waters near Ayungin Shoal, which China calls "Ren’ai Reef", "without permission."

"The Ren’ai Reef is part of China’s Nansha Islands," he told reporters, referring to the Spratly Islands. 

Wang further claimed that the Chinese Coast Guard only "upheld China’s sovereignty and maritime order and acted in a professional and restrained way."

The Philippines and China have been disputing over the South China Sea for over a decade, with Beijing claiming sovereignty over almost the entire waters through which trillions of dollars in trade pass annually. 

Despite a 2016 ruling from a UN-backed tribunal that favored Manila and ruled China's claims as illegitimate, the Asian giant has been aggressive in its military activities in the South China Sea.

In recent years, China has built artificial islands on reefs while constructing military facilities and airstrips.

The Philippines has also repeatedly accused Chinese coastguard and maritime militias of harassing and attacking fishing boats and other vessels in the region. With Agence France-Presse

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