Australian naval force pilots struck by lasers in South China Sea

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BEIJING (AP) — Australian naval force helicopter pilots were hit by lasers while practicing in the South China Sea, driving them to land as a safety measure, an observer stated, describing the most recent occurrence in the contested waters where China has ventured up the defense of its territorial claims.

Researcher Euan Graham, who was onboard the Royal Australian Navy flagship HMAS Canberra on a voyage from Vietnam to Singapore, said that the lasers had been pointed from passing angling vessels while the Canberra was being trailed by a Chinese warship.

China keeps up a strong maritime militia in the South China Sea composed of fishing vessels prepared to complete missions barely shy of battle. China guarantees the key waterway in its entirety and is touchy to all remote maritime activity in the territory, particularly by the U.S. and its partners, for example, Australia.

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“Was this startled fishermen reacting to the unexpected? Or was it the sort of coordinated harassment more suggestive of China’s maritime militia? It’s hard to say for sure, but similar incidents have occurred in the western Pacific,” Euan Graham composed on the website The Strategist run by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute , an autonomous, non-partisan research organization based in Canberra. The record of the incident showed up Tuesday.

Similar incidents including lasers and the Chinese military have likewise been accounted as far away as Djibouti, where both the U.S. and China have bases. A year ago, the U.S. grumbled to China after lasers were aimed at an aircraft in the Horn of Africa country that brought about minor wounds to two American pilots.

China denied that its powers targeted the U.S. military aircraft.

Graham said that while bridge-to-bridge correspondences with the Chinese amid the voyage were polite, the Chinese demanded that the Australian warships tell them ahead of time of any adjustments to their course.

That was something the Australian naval force was “not about to concede while exercising its high-seas freedoms,” Graham wrote.

He said that the steady nearness of Chinese vessels shadowing foreign boats seemed to show that the Chinese fleet had developed sufficiently to enable it to have vessels lying in wait for simply such orders.

He said their trailing activities likewise seemed to demonstrate that China’s over-the-horizon observation capacity was maturing too, bolstered by innovation based at points, for example, Fiery Cross Reef in the challenged Spratly island group where China has built army bases and an airstrip atop coral reefs.

Five different governments have claims in the South China Sea that overlap with China’s, and the U.S. and its partners demand the right to sail and fly anyplace in the territory is allowed under international law, regardless of China’s contrasting interpretation of such rules.

Graham, who is official executive director of La Trobe Asia at La Trobe University in Australia, was one of the many academics welcomed to watch Australia’s engagement exercise Indo-Pacific Endeavor 2019.

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