Philippines-China relations

Close friends don’t point lasers at each other, Marcos tells China envoy 

Bea Cupin

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Close friends don’t point lasers at each other, Marcos tells China envoy 

LASER-POINTING INCIDENT. A Philippine Coast Guard photo shows a military-grade laser light aimed at the Philippine Coast Guard's BRP Malapascua.

Philippine Coast Guard

Marcos says the incident is not sufficient to trigger the Philippines' Mutual Defense Treaty with the US

BAGUIO CITY, Philippines – President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. apparently had sharp words for Chinese Ambassador Huang Xillian when he summoned the envoy after China used a military-grade laser against the Philippine Coast Guard in the West Philippine Sea.

“I said that the laser-pointing incident was only a part of what we are seeing as a – intensifying or escalating of the actions of the marine militia of China, the coast guard of China, and the navy of China,” said Marcos in a chance interview on Saturday, February 18, four days after he summoned Beijing’s envoy to Manila

“Actually, I said we have to find a way around this. Because if we are such close friends, such as China and the Philippines, these are not the kinds of incidents that we should be talking about – between the president and the ambassador to the Philippines from China,” said Marcos on the sidelines of the Philippine Military Academy’s alumni homecoming in Fort Gregorio del Pilar. 

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Marcos – hoping to start a “new golden age” of relations between and Manila and Beijing under his watch – went on a state visit to China in early January. Marcos told Huang escalations in the West Philippine Sea, including the pointing of a military-grade laser, “was not what we agreed upon with President Xi when I visited him in Beijing.”

On February 6, days before Marcos flew to Japan for an official visit, a Chinese Coast Guard vessel used a military-grade laser against BRP Malapascua near Ayungin Shoal in the West Philippine Sea. According to the Philippine Coast Guard, the action caused “temporary blindness” for the Philippine vessel’s crew at the bridge. 

China has sought to downplay the summoning of its envoy, and insisted that what was used by its Coast Guard during that incident was a distance finder.

The escalation of tensions in the West Philippine Sea, or the area of the South China Sea within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, comes after the rhetorics of Marcos’ visit to Beijing and after the two countries signed a deal to create direct communication lines to avoid tensions in the volatile and resource-rich waterway. 

The Philippines’ allies, including the United States, have publicly spoken out against China’s aggressions. US Vice President Kamala Harris, during a recent visit to Manila, said Americans were prepared to come to Manila’s defense in case of an attack in the South China Sea. 

The US and the Philippines are long-time treaty allies and parties to a Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) – meaning that each country has promised to back each other in the event of an external attack. 

Responding to questions, Marcos said it’s not time to invoke the MDT.

“Because if we activate that, what we’re doing is escalating the, intensifying the tensions in the area. I think that would be counter-productive. Despite the fact that it was a military-grade laser that was pointed at our coast guard, I do not think that it is sufficient for it to trigger the Mutual Defense Treaty,” Marcos said on Saturday. –

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Bea Cupin

Bea is a senior multimedia reporter who covers national politics. She's been a journalist since 2011 and has written about Congress, the national police, and the Liberal Party for Rappler.