China responds to report it fired laser at US Navy plane

BEIJING (AP) — China’s Defense Ministry says a report one of its navy ships fired a laser last month at a U.S. Navy surveillance plane circling overhead does not “accord with reality.”

The report last month was the latest accusation that Chinese forces have used lasers to harass and potentially damage U.S. and other nations’ military aircraft and personnel.

However, ministry spokesman Ren Guoqiang was quoted as saying Friday that the ministry “refuted” the report and said a Chinese squadron was conducting routine exercises in international waters on Feb. 17 when the incident allegedly happened.

In China’s first pubic comments on the alleged incident, Ren accused an American P-8A Poseidon of carrying out “long-period circling reconnaissance at low-altitude despite repeated warnings from the Chinese side.”

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“The American aircraft’s behavior was unfriendly in intention and unprofessional by operation, which severely threatened the safety of the vessels, aircraft and crew of both sides,” he said.

The U.S. Navy waited more than a week before accusing the Chinese ship of firing a laser at a U.S. surveillance aircraft flying over the Philippine Sea west of Guam, an act the U.S. deemed unsafe and a violation of international codes and agreements. The statement from U.S. Pacific Fleet said the laser was detected by sensors on the aircraft, but was not visible to the naked eye.

The Philippine Sea lies far to the north and west of the South China Sea, which China claims virtually in its entirety despite countering claims by others.

The U.S. has sought to avoid such incidents with the signing of agreements with China on handling unexpected incidents at sea and in the air, but Beijing has apparently not followed those protocols consistently.

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