Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has criticised Beijing for “an act of intimidation” after a Chinese warship fired a laser at a Royal Australian military aircraft.
The attack took place on Feb. 17 as an Australian P-8A Poseidon aircraft was monitoring a Chinese Navy vessel sailing through the Arafura Sea—in international waters but inside Australia’s exclusive economic zone.
The Chinese warship reportedly fired a military-grade laser at the Australian aircraft, an action that the Australian defence department said could have put the lives of ADF personnel in danger.
The incident comes following a week of domestic political dispute about national security as Beijing escalates its plans to become the dominant force in the Indo-Pacific region.
Morrison on Sunday described the Thursday event as a “reckless and irresponsible act” by China.
“I can see it in no other way than an act of intimidation, one that was unprovoked, unwarranted,” Morrison told reporters in Melbourne. “Australia will never accept such acts of intimidation.”
He added that the act is being raised with China’s communist party leaders through defence and diplomatic channels, and that Beijing needed to provide an explanation “as to why a military vessel in Australia’s exclusive economic zone would undertake such a dangerous act.”
“I have no doubt that if it had been an Australian vessel, British vessel, American vessel, French vessel, Japanese vessel, or German for that matter, that was going through similar waters in the South China Sea, and it was done to a Chinese surveillance aircraft, then people could guess what the reaction to that would have been.”
The laser incident highlights the increasing tension between Beijing and liberal democratic allies who stand for freedom. As a leading voice in safeguarding the liberal-democratic world order, Australia’s China policy is to be a critical issue in the impending federal election. Morrison has stressed that the Coalition has increased its defence funding in the face of increasing aggression in the Pacific by Beijing, and “did not abandon our borders as Labor did.”
“An appeasement path not something that my government will ever go down,” he said.
“You’ve got to take a strong stance on these issues. It’s not just about what you say; it’s about what you do, and what our government has been doing is protecting Australia’s national interest and protecting us from such threats and intimidation.”
Meanwhile, Defence Minister Peter Dutton told Sky News on Sunday that Australia would work closely with its allies to combat China’s aggression because China’s leaders need to understand that “there is a price to pay for those acts of aggression.”
He emphasised it was most important to “shine a light on these behaviours,” noting that a military grade laser can result in the blindness the crew and the damage of equipment.
“The Chinese government is hoping no one talks about these aggressive and appalling acts,” Dutton said. “It’s completely unacceptable.”
Labor’s shadow minister for communications Michelle Rowland agreed, saying, “This isn’t some juvenile aiming a laser at a commercial aircraft; this was a military-grade laser.”
“That is deeply concerning and Labor will be seeking a briefing from defence on this matter. But unfortunately, it comes at a time when China’s presence and its actions are continuing to cause concern right across the region and globally as well,” she told Sky News.