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China has once again overstepped its bounds, this time in an incident involving the Chinese and Philippine Coast Guards. The Biden administration has denounced China's actions during the incident, which occurred on February 6, but was revealed to the public this week.
On Tuesday, State Department spokesman, Ned Price, berated China for its "provocative and unsafe" interference with the goal of disrupting Philippine vessels' "lawful operations" in the South China Sea.
"More broadly, the PRC's dangerous operational behavior directly threatened 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 added.
According to the U.S. the conflict occurred in an area where China has "no lawful maritime claims" and happened as the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) sailed around Second Thomas Shoal.
A statement from the PCG detailed the incident, saying, "The Chinese ship illuminated the green laser light twice toward the BRP MALAPASCUA, causing temporary blindness to her crew at the bridge. The Chinese vessel also made dangerous maneuvers by approaching about 150 yards from the vessel's starboard quarter."
The PCG went on to call the event "a blatant disregard for, and a clear violation of, Philippine sovereign rights."
While referring to a 1951 mutual defense treaty with the Philippines, Price added, "The United States stands with our Philippine allies in upholding the rules-based international maritime order and reaffirms an armed attack on Philippine armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft, including those of the Coast Guard in the South China Sea, would invoke U.S. mutual defense commitments."
While this is not the first time that the U.S. has vowed to come to the Philippines' defense against China if necessary, it is clear that Beijing is testing the U.S. position with such blatant provocations in disputed territory in the South China Sea.
Although China has acknowledged the incident, it has claimed that the Philippine Coast Guard entered waters claimed by Beijing.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken also issued a direct warning to China last summer, saying, "We also reaffirm that an armed attack on Philippine armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft in the South China Sea would invoke U.S. mutual defense commitments under Article IV of the 1951 U.S.-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty."
The PCG incident is just one of several recent provocations on the part of Beijing. China has consistently been conducting show-of-force maneuvers in Taiwanese waters. Earlier this month, a Chinese high-altitude surveillance balloon also drifted across the U.S. before being shot down by an F-22 over the South Carolina coast. In response to the balloon incident, the Navy's Seventh Fleet deployed the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz to the South China Sea to conduct military exercises with U.S. marines.