Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that he had called on the Chinese government to explain the “dangerous” and “reckless” act allegedly carried out by a People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) warship last week. “This was dangerous, it was unprofessional and it was reckless for a professional navy, and we want some answers as to why they did this,” Morrison said. “At worst, it was intimidating and bullying.”
“They are the ones who need to explain, not just to Australia, but to think of all the countries in our region,” he added. “It could occur to anyone else who is just simply doing the normal surveillance of their own Exclusive Economic Zone.”
Morrison said that Chinese authorities had not yet responded to his call for answers, reported CNN.
The incident occurred on Tuesday, the statement said, when an Australian P-8A aircraft, reconnaissance and anti-submarine warfare plane was flying over the Arafura Sea, the body of water between Australia’s Northern Territory and the island of New Guinea to the north.
The Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) ship that pointed the laser at the Australian jet was one of two PLAN warships sailing east across the Arafura Sea at the time, the Australian military said, reported CNN.
The Australian Defence Force released photos of two Chinese ships with the statement, which, according to their hull numbers, are the guided-missile destroyer Hefei and the amphibious transport dock Jinggang Shan.
Meanwhile, at a regular briefing in Beijing, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told reporters the ship was abiding by international law.
“After checking with relevant Chinese authorities, the information released by the Australian side is not true. The normal navigation of the Chinese ship on the high seas conforms to relevant international law and practice and is completely legitimate and lawful,” Wang said.
“We urge the Australian side to respect the legitimate rights of Chinese vessels in relevant waters in accordance with international law and stop maliciously spreading false information about China.”
Earlier, state-run tabloid the Global Times accused Canberra of trying to damage Beijing’s reputation in the South Pacific, reported CNN.
“The Australian military knowingly hyped this with the aim of throwing mud at China,” the article said, citing an anonymous analyst.
The incident is not the first report of Chinese vessels pointing lasers at Australian aircraft. In May 2019, Australian pilots said they were targeted multiple times by commercial lasers during missions over the South China Sea.
And in a report in June 2018, US military officials told CNN that there were at least 20 suspected Chinese laser incidents in the eastern Pacific from September 2017 to June 2018.
Military tensions between China and Australia have been on the rise and spiked in November when Canberra said it was entering a pact with the United States and the United Kingdom to acquire nuclear-powered submarines.
The day the sub deal was announced, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said Australia should “seriously consider whether to view China as a partner or a threat.”