On Monday, Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison demanded Beijing conduct a “complete investigation” into a Chinese naval vessel’s alleged use of a military-grade laser on an Australian air force surveillance plane in the Arafura Sea. According to the Australian Defence Department, a Chinese navy ship used a laser at one of its surveillance planes last week, endangering the crew’s lives. However, China has stated that Australia is ‘slinging mud’ over the incident.

Morrison claimed that Australia is pursuing diplomatic channels to demand an investigation into the incident, and he asked China to explain how such a reckless act could be carried out by a professional defence force? “We have not received an explanation as yet, but we have called for a full investigation into the matter,” he told 2GB radio. Last Thursday (February 17), a P-8A Poseidon detected a laser illuminating the aircraft while flying over Australia’s northern approaches, according to Australia’s defence ministry.

Australian Defence Minister Peter Dutton said it was important to understand this was a military-grade laser, not a toy laser or a pointer. “There’s a lot of aggression going on by China at the moment. Like in any circumstance, you can’t deal with a bully in the schoolyard or a workplace from a position of weakness. You need to stand up and push back on that aggression,” he added, as per PTI. Notably, lasers are a severe hazard because, when directed at planes, they can harm or temporarily blind pilots, posing a safety risk, especially during takeoff and landing.

Australia discusses the threat posed by Beijing’s interference

The incident occurs amid an intense political debate in Australia over the threat posed by Beijing’s interference in the country’s security and defence. For the past five years, Australia has defended itself against potential foreign aggression by enacting laws to prevent alleged foreign intervention in the country’s politics and economy. Meanwhile, relations between Australia and China deteriorated since 2018 when Canberra barred Huawei from its 5G network and demanded an investigation into the origins of COVID-19 in 2020, while Beijing levied tariffs on a number of Australian exports. The US also accused China of firing a laser at one of its Patrol planes over the Pacific two years ago. However, China denied it, claiming that despite repeated warnings, the plane circled at low altitude over its warship, the Associated Press reported.

Image: AP