China has accused Australia of “throwing mud” at the nation for failing to disclose key details regarding the laser that illuminated a RAAF P-8A Poseidon.
Chinese military professional Song Zhongping told The Global Times on Monday that the incident was almost certainly the fault of the Australian patrol aircraft because it conducted a close-in reconnaissance on the warships.
The “serious safety incident” occurred at 12:35 am on 17 February and was detected while the RAAF Poseidon was flying over Australia’s north.
It was directed from People’s Liberation Army – Navy (PLA-N) vessels – China’s national armed forces – including the Type 052D destroyer Hefei and the Type 071 amphibious landing ship the Jinggangshan.
“Australia failed to tell the public how close its aircraft flew near the Chinese vessels, so people could not tell if the Chinese vessels were forced to take defensive countermeasures,” Song said.
While the source was not named, an analyst close to the PLA told the Chinese publication most modern warships are equipped with rangefinders which measure distances between objects.
“They are also used for civilian purposes and are of little danger, the anonymous analyst said, noting that the Australian military knowingly hyped this with the aim of throwing mud at China,” the Global Times said.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison condemned the act amid rising tensions with China, saying he “can see it no other way than an act of intimidation, one that was unprovoked, unwarranted, and Australia will never accept such acts of intimidation.”
Fears over the laser shining towards a RAAF aircraft stemmed from the vessel’s proximity to Australia’s coast, specifically inside the exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
The EEZ is an area of sea beyond and adjacent to the territorial sea, and a certain state will have sovereignty over the zone regarding maritime use and exploration. Australia’s EEZ extends from 12 to 200 nautical miles from the coastline of Australia.
Travelling this close meant the laser had capabilities of taking out the aircraft’s sensors, according to ABC defence correspondent Andrew Greene.
But Chinese officials said it “only exposes the Australian aircraft’s unsafe, provocative close-in reconnaissance on the Chinese ships in the first place”.
In the past weeks, China has sent out large sums of food, water and tents as aid for residents in Tonga due to the volcano eruption that occurred in January via air force aircraft and ships.
Analysts told the publication Australia does not like China providing humanitarian aid to other nations and will find ways to “discredit” the country.