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China defends laser incident, accuses Philippine ship of intrusion

China has defended its coast guard's action to point laser light at a Philippine vessel near Ayungin Shoal in the West Philippine Sea, saying the vessel was intruding into Chinese territory.

In a press conference Monday, China Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said the Philippine Coast Guard vessel "intruded into the waters off the Ren'ai Reef without Chinese permission."

Wang maintained that Ren'ai Reef is part of China's Nansha Islands or what the Philippines refers to as Spratly Islands.

According to the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), the incident took place on February 6 near Ayungin Shoal, which China calls Ren'ai Reef.

The PCG said a Chinese coast guard (CCG) vessel pointed a "military-grade" laser light at one of its vessels supporting a Philippine Navy rotation and resupply mission.

The US on Monday meanwhile stood with the Philippines in the laser dispute.

"The United States stands with our Philippine allies in the face of the People's Republic of China (PRC) Coast Guard's reported use of laser devices against the crew of a Philippine Coast Guard ship on February 6 in the South China Sea," State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement.

Citing domestic law and international law, Wang said the CCG just upheld China's sovereignty and maritime order as well as acted in a "professional" and "restrained" way.

"We hope the Philippine side will respect China's territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests in the South China Sea and avoid taking any actions that may exacerbate disputes and complicate the situation," he said.

According to the Chinese official, China and the Philippines are in communication regarding the matter through diplomatic channels.

Following the February 6 incident, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) called on the Chinese government to control its forces.

"The Secretary of National Defense has already declared or said that the act committed by the Coast Guard of China is offensive and unsafe," AFP spokesperson Colonel Medel Aguilar said Monday.

"Therefore, I think it is time for the Chinese government to restrain its forces so that it does not commit any provocative act that will endanger [the] lives of people." 

Under UNCLOS or the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea where the Philippines and China are both signatories, the 200 nautical miles off the territorial sea of a country is its exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

In July 2016, the UN Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, based on a case filed by the Philippines, junked China's nine-dash line claim covering the entire South China Sea.

The arbitration court also ruled that Panganiban (Mischief) Reef, Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal and Recto (Reed) Bank are all within the Philippines' EEZ as provided by the UNCLOS and outlawed China’s action of preventing Filipino fishermen to access Scarborough (Panatag) Shoal.

China has refused to acknowledge the ruling. —KBK/KG, GMA Integrated News