Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has criticized Beijing for “an act of intimidation” after a Chinese warship pointed 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 incident follows a week of domestic political dispute about national security, as the regime in Beijing escalates its plans to become the dominant force in the Indo-Pacific region.
'Unprovoked, Unwarranted'Morrison on Feb. 20 described last week's action 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 said the act is being raised with Chinese Communist Party leaders through defense and diplomatic channels, and that Beijing must 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 democratic nations that 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 defense funding in the face of increasing aggression in the Pacific by Beijing, and “did not abandon our borders as Labor did.”
"An appeasement path is 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 Feb. 20 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 emphasized that it's most important to “shine a light on these behaviors,” noting that a military-grade laser can result in the blindness of crew members 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,” she told Sky News. "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."