Chinese warship fires 'military-grade' laser at Australian air force
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The country’s defence department said the laser, which originated from a Chinese naval vessel on February 17, had the “potential to endanger lives”. Prime Minister Morrison told media on Monday that the Chinese government had not yet issued an explanation for the “dangerous and reckless” incident and called for a full investigation.
The Australian government has said the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLA-N) warship used a laser to illuminate the Australian P-8A Poseidon surveillance aircraft which had been tracking two PLA-N vessels that were sailing through the Arafura Sea north of Australia.
Mr Morrison has called the incident an “act of intimidation” and Australian defence minister Peter Dutton has said it was “very aggressive”.
Mr Dutton said on Sunday: “I think the Chinese government is hoping that nobody talks about these aggressive bullying acts.”
Beijing has dismissed the allegations as “not true” and defended the Chinese ship’s movement as “normal navigation…in line with relevant international law”.
A statement issued by China’s defence minister on Monday said the PLA-N vessel “maintained safe, normative and professional operations” and criticised Australia for making what it called “irresponsible claims”.
Wang Wenbin, a spokesman for China’s defence ministry, said: “We urge Australia to respect the legitimate rights of Chinese ships in relevant sea areas in accordance with international law and stop spreading false information related to China.”
Mr Wenbin also accused an Australian aircraft of being engaged in “malicious provocations” that “posed a threat” to safety.
He said the aircraft had “approached the airspace” over the Chinese vessels coming within 4km.
A spokesperson from the Australian defence ministry said the closest an aircraft came was approximately 3,900m which it said was a “standard flight profile”.
China also accused the Australian aircraft of casting a sonar buoy, a device used to gather acoustic information and help detect submarines, into the water around the Chinese vessel.
A spokesperson for the defence ministry, Senior Colonel Tan Kefei, accused Australia of “spiteful and provocative actions” that would “undoubtedly result in misunderstanding and threaten the safety of aircraft, vessels and personnel of both sides”.
He said: “China is firmly opposed to these actions by Australia.”
Colonel Tan Kefei called on the Australian government to “stop such provocative and risky actions” and “avoid negative effects on the relationship of the two countries and two militaries”.
Australia has defended the use of sonar buoys as “common practice” and asserted that surveillance activities were “conducted in a disciplined and safe manner”.
In a statement released on Tuesday, Australia’s Defence ministry said the P-8A aircraft only used sonar buoys, also known as sonobuoys, in response to the incident, not before.
It said: “No sonobuoys were used prior to the PLA-N vessel directing its laser at the P-8A aircraft on February 17.
“Some sonobuoys were used after the incident but were dropped in the water a significant distance ahead of the PLA-N vessel.”
The statement rebuffed China’s accusation that Australia was sharing misinformation.
It said: “Australia does not engage in the spread of misinformation or disinformation.”
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Prime Minister Morrison said the incident was “extremely disappointing” and called for a full explanation from Beijing.
He said the Australian aircraft was “exactly where it was allowed to be, doing everything they were allowed to do and keeping eyes on those who are coming into our exclusive economic zone”.
He said: “They were doing their job as they do every single day and we make no apology for where our surveillance aircraft are looking after and protecting Australia.”
China has previously been accused of targeting Australian aircraft with similar military-grade lasers over the South China Sea in 2019.
The latest incident comes as tensions between Australia and China continue to rise.
Relations were frayed by Australia’s call for an independent investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic first reported in the Chinese city of Wuhan.
China has since placed tariffs on Australian goods. Beijing also reacted with anger at Canberra’s joining of the trilateral AUKUS defence pact last year with the United States and United Kingdom.
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