China and several other regional countries — namely Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines — have disagreements over maritime borders and areas of responsibility in the South China and East China Seas. Australia doesn’t have South China Sea-related claims, but has consistently called for all nations to have free access to the area.
A Royal Australian Navy helicopter pilot was hit by a laser during the Indo-Pacific Endeavour 2019 in the disputed South China Sea, AP reports, with an eyewitness claiming others were targeted as well.
After the reported incident the pilot had to land his helicopter as a precautionary measure.
AP cited an eyewitness, Euan Graham, who was aboard the Australian Navy’s flagship HMAS Canberra, as saying that helicopter pilots had lasers pointed at them during the flights.
“Some helicopter pilots had lasers pointed at them from passing fishing vessels, temporarily grounding them for precautionary medical reasons,” Euan Graham said.
According to him, similar incidents have also occurred in the Western Pacific.
The South China Sea is a major transit route which is also rich in fishing stocks. The territory in question has long been subject to overlapping sovereignty claims by China, the Philippines and Taiwan. The Scarborough Shoal along with the nearby Spratly and Paracel archipelagos, which is also disputed by China and the Philippines, is reportedly rich in hydrocarbons.
When the UN court in 2016 recognised these lands as territories belonging to the Philippines, whose claim was based on the grounds of geographical proximity, China slammed and disregarded the ruling.