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BEIJING (AP) — A report that Australian navy helicopter pilots were targeted with lasers, apparently coming from Chinese fishing boats, was "not consistent with the facts," China's defense ministry said Thursday.
Spokesman Wu Qian told reporters at a monthly briefing that Australia should "reflect on itself" before pointing the blame at others.
"According to my knowledge, what you have said is not consistent with the facts," Wu said.
Scholar Euan Graham, who was onboard the Royal Australian Navy flagship HMAS Canberra on a voyage from Vietnam to Singapore, wrote that the Tiger attack helicopter pilots were hit by lasers while exercising in South China Sea waters claimed by China earlier in May, "temporarily grounding them for precautionary medical reasons."
China maintains a robust maritime militia in the South China Sea composed of fishing vessels equipped to carry out missions just short of combat. China claims the strategic waterway virtually in its entirety and is sensitive to all foreign naval action in the area, especially by the U.S. and allies such as Australia.
Similar incidents involving lasers and the Chinese military have also been reported as far away as Djibouti, where the U.S. and China have bases. Last year, the U.S. complained to China after lasers were directed at aircraft in the Horn of Africa nation that resulted in minor injuries to two American pilots.
China denied that its forces targeted the U.S. military aircraft.
Graham wrote that bridge-to-bridge communications with the Chinese during the voyage were courteous, but that the Chinese requested the Australian warships to notify them in advance of any corrections to their course, something the Australian navy was "not about to concede while exercising its high-seas freedoms."
He wrote that the constant presence of Chinese vessels shadowing foreign ships appeared to indicate that the Chinese fleet had grown large enough to allow it to have vessels lying in wait for such orders.
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