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Australia accuses China of ‘act of intimidation’ for shining laser at its surveillance plane

Australian defence minister calls it an example of China’s ‘aggressive bullying’

Shweta Sharma
Sunday 20 February 2022 12:22 GMT
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Chinese PLA-N Luyang-class guided missile destroyer after Australian forces confirmed that on 17 February 2022, a royal Australian air force (RAAF) P-8A Poseidon detected a laser illuminating the aircraft from a People’s Liberation army navy (PLA-N) vessel
Chinese PLA-N Luyang-class guided missile destroyer after Australian forces confirmed that on 17 February 2022, a royal Australian air force (RAAF) P-8A Poseidon detected a laser illuminating the aircraft from a People’s Liberation army navy (PLA-N) vessel (Australian Defence Force/AFP/Getty)

Australia’s prime minister Scott Morrison has condemned the Chinese navy for shining a “military grade” laser towards one of its warplanes, branding it as an “act of intimidation”.

Mr Morrison’s stern rebuke of China came in a statement late on Saturday after the Australian defence department accused a People’s Liberation army navy (PLA-N) vessel of emanating a laser and illuminating a royal Australian air force (RAAF) maritime surveillance aircraft sailing through the Arafura Sea.

“Acts like this have the potential to endanger lives,” the defence department said. “We strongly condemn unprofessional and unsafe military conduct.”

The alleged incident took place on 17 February, when a laser was illuminated on a P-8A Poseidon.

In his televised comments on Sunday, Mr Morrison said he was “very concerned about the actions of using the lasers”.

“That is, I can see it no other way than an act of intimidation, one that was unprovoked, unwarranted, and Australia will never accept such acts of intimidation,” he said.

The Australian prime minister said it was “a reckless and irresponsible act that should not have occurred”.

The country’s defence minister Peter Dutton said the incident was an example of “aggressive bullying” by the Chinese military.

A handout photo taken on 18 February 2022 and received on 20 February shows a Chinese PLA-N Yuzhao-class amphibious transport dock vessel transiting the Torres Strait in northern Australia after the Australian Defence Force confirmed that on 17 February, a royal Australian air force (RAAF) P-8A Poseidon detected a laser illuminating the aircraft (Australian Defence Force/AFP/Getty)

The incident comes as ties between the trading partners Canberra and Beijing have deteriorated.

Mr Morrison’s government has in the past demanded an international enquiry into the origins of Covid, first detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan, and accused it of interfering in domestic politics while banning Chinese telecom giant Huawei from building Australian tech infrastructure.

China on the other hand is agitated about Canberra’s membership of US-led alliances such as the Quad and Aukus that, it says, is “severely damaging regional peace... and intensifying the arms race”.

Mr Morrison said they will be “making our views very clear” to the Chinese government through defence and diplomatic channels.

He said he will demand China to give an explanation “as to why a military vessel in Australia’s exclusive economic zone would undertake such an act – such a dangerous act”.

Laser illuminations on aircraft present a serious problem because they can cause injuries to pilots or temporarily blind them, risking any take-off or landing operations.

Australian media have in the past reported similar incidents.

The Australian defence department said the Chinese ship was accompanied by another PLA-N ship sailing east in the Arafura Sea at that time, before making a pass through the Torres Strait between Australia and Papua New Guinea, and heading into the Coral Sea.

“Such actions are not in keeping with the standards we expect of professional militaries,” it said.

China is yet to respond to the accusations.

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