Scholar points to Beijing’s ‘maritime militia’ in the South China Sea after lasers force Australian navy helicopter to land

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US Navy personnel point at a computer screen showing Chinese activity on the Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. An Australian scholar said Chinese ships pointed lasers at them during a flight over the disputed sea. Photo: ReutersUS Navy personnel point at a computer screen showing Chinese activity on the Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. An Australian scholar said Chinese ships pointed lasers at them during a flight over the disputed sea. Photo: Reuters

Australian navy helicopter pilots were hit by lasers and forced to land during exercises in the South China Sea, according to one witness on-board the aircraft.

Scholar Euan Graham, who said he was on the Royal Australian Navy flagship HMAS Canberra during a voyage from Vietnam to Singapore, said the lasers had been pointed from passing fishing vessels while the Canberra was being trailed by a Chinese warship.

“Was this startled fishermen reacting to the unexpected? Or was it the sort of coordinated harassment more suggestive of China’s maritime militia? It’s hard to say for sure, but similar incidents have occurred in the western Pacific,” he wrote on the website The Strategist run by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, an independent, non-partisan think tank based in Canberra.

His account of the incident appeared on Tuesday.

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 US and allies such as Australia.

https://www.scmp.com/news/asia/australasia/article/3012211/scholar-points-beijings-maritime-militia-south-china-sea

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