Pilots of US military aircraft operating in the Pacific Ocean have reportedly been targeted by lasers more than 20 times in recent months, US officials told The Wall Street Journal.
All of the incidents occurred near the East China Sea, the officials said, where Chinese military and civilians often operate in part to buttress their nation’s extensive claims.
This report comes not long after the Pentagon accused the Chinese military of using lasers against US pilots in Djibouti. The pilots suffered minor eye injuries as a result, but China denied any involvement.
It’s unclear who is behind these activities in the Pacific and the officials said the lasers used were commercial-grade, such as laser pointers often used for briefings and even playing with cats, as opposed to the military-grade lasers used against the US pilots in East Africa.
The lasers were reportedly pointed at the US aircraft from fishing boats, some of which were Chinese-flagged vessels.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Stephany Richards)
The US officials said they do not currently believe the Chinese military is behind these incidents, but also couldn’t totally rule it out given the recent issues in Djibouti.
They added it’s possible Chinese fisherman or people from “other countries in the region” could simply be doing this to harass American pilots.
It’s also not clear what type of aircraft were targeted.
After the incidents in Djibouti, the Pentagon in May 2018 issued a formal complaint to China and called on its government to investigate.
In response, China’s Defense Ministry said, “We have already refuted the untrue criticisms via official channels. The Chinese side consistently strictly abides by international law and laws of the local country, and is committed to protecting regional security and stability.”
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying added that the government had performed “serious checks,” adding: “You can remind the relevant U.S. person to keep in mind the truthfulness of what they say, and to not swiftly speculate or make accusations.”
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