Canberra has accused Beijing of an unprovoked “act of intimidation” after the Chinese navy aimed a laser at an Australian surveillance aircraft off the country’s north coast.
The Australian Defense Forces said on Saturday that the use of the laser by one People’s Liberation Army naval vessel on Thursday, which illuminated the military plane in the Arafura Sea off the coast of the Northern Territory, could have put the lives of staff on board in danger. The plane flew in Australia’s exclusive economic zone.
“Such actions are not in line with the standards we expect of professional military personnel,” the ADF said.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Sunday: “I can see no other way than an intimidation, an act that was unprovoked, unjustified and Australia will never accept such intimidating acts.”
The incident is the latest to spark tensions between Australia and China. Morrison said it justified Canberra’s decision to create stronger Indo-Pacific security partnerships such as Aukus submarine agreement with the United States and the United Kingdom, and Quad grouping, which includes Australia, Japan, the United States and India. The meeting coincides with a more concerted effort by Washington and its allies to resist China’s growing influence in the Pacific.
Rory Medcalf, head of the National Security College’s National Security College, said the Chinese navy’s use of the laser was part of a larger pattern of their ruthless behavior across the region.
“This is shocking, but not surprising,” Medcalf said. ‘What is most significant is that it happened against an Australian plane very close to the coast. There is no way to characterize this as defensive, ”he said.
Euan Graham, a senior fellow for Asia-Pacific Security at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in Singapore, said the Chinese ship probably used a rangefinder attached to a weapon system on board instead of a dedicated laser weapon.
“This kind of behavior is not in China’s interest because it attracts further anger from Australia in an already tense relationship,” he said. “The extra significance of this is that it expresses a more robust [PLA] presence in the South Pacific. ”
China has not commented on the incident. An official at the Chinese Ministry of Defense’s spokesman’s office did not answer the phone Sunday.
The meeting took place while much of the rest of the world was focused on crisis in Ukrainewhere Russia has assembled troops on the border.
As the PLA’s fleet operates further away from China’s shores after a major expansion over the past 20 years, Western armed forces have increasingly reported risky encounters.
Incidents with laser have been increasing. The U.S. and Australian military have been recording incidents since 2017, when their planes and helicopters were targeted with hand-held lasers from the coast or from Chinese fishing boats and PLA naval vessels.
China has signed the Protocol on Dazzling Laser Weapons, which explicitly bans the use of lasers to target pilots.
Diplomatic relations between Canberra and Beijing have deteriorated since Australia pushed back against Chinese aggression in Asia, calling for an international inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.