Beijing has denied Australian allegations that a Chinese naval vessel shone a laser at one of the country’s surveillance aircraft in an incident that Prime Minister Scott Morrison termed an “act of intimidation”.
A Chinese ship sailing off Australia’s northern coast last week illuminated the plane, Canberra’s defence department said Sunday, adding that the act had “the potential to endanger lives.”
However, Beijing said the laser accusation was “not true” and defended the Chinese ship’s movements as “normal navigation … in line with relevant international law.”
“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,” foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said at a routine press briefing.
A spokesman for China’s defence ministry later said an Australian P-8 patrol aircraft had come within four kilometres (2.5 miles) of the vessel and engaged in “malicious provocations” that “posed a threat” to safety.
The ministry released photos it said showed sonar buoys dropped by the plane into the surrounding waters. AFP was unable to independently verify the images.
“I think the Chinese government is hoping that nobody talks about these aggressive bullying acts,” Australian Defence Minister Peter Dutton said previously, calling the incident “very aggressive”.
China also was accused of targeting Australian aircraft using military-grade lasers in 2019, when Australian Defence Force helicopters were illuminated over the South China Sea.
Relations between China and Australia have nosedived in recent years after Morrison called for an independent investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, which first emerged globally in the Chinese city of Wuhan.
China responded by placing tariffs on Australian goods worth billions of dollars, dragging both countries into a protracted trade standoff.
Beijing also reacted with fury last year when Canberra joined a trilateral defence pact with the United States and Britain that would allow it to acquire nuclear-powered submarines, to counter China’s growing military might in the Asia-Pacific region.
© Agence France-Presse