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China says ‘untrue’ it aimed lasers at US military aircraft in Djibouti

Five MC-130J Commando IIs conduct low-level formation training over Clovis, N.M., Nov. 5, 2013. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Matthew Plew/Released)
May 08, 2018

China’s Foreign Ministry has denied assertions that the country’s military base in Djibouti has targeted U.S. military aircraft with high-powered lasers, the Associated Press reported this weekend.

The denial came after reports last week that two U.S. military pilots sustained minor eye injuries after apparently being hit by lasers during a routine flight mission.

Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman for China’s Foreign Ministry, said that “after strict verification, we have told the U.S. side that what they alleged is absolutely untrue.”

The Defense Ministry echoed Chunying’s statement.

“China always strictly abides by international law and the law of the country of residency, and is committed to maintaining regional security and stability,” said the statement posted to the ministry’s blog.

Last week, the U.S. issued a formal notice for U.S. military personnel “to exercise caution when flying in certain areas in Djibouti” because of “lasers being directed at U.S. aircraft on a small number of separate occasions over the last few weeks.”

The incident resulted in minor eye injuries of two pilots flying in a C-130; the injuries were said to be a result of exposure to military-grade laser beams.

The Djiboutian government has already been closely monitor U.S. military activity in the region following a series of aviation accidents this year, including a U.S. Marine Corps Harrier jet that crashed at the country’s international airport, and a Marine Corps CH-53 chopper that sustained minor damage while landing. The incidents ultimately resulted in a request from the African nation to temporarily cease U.S. aviation activity.

U.S. military activity in the region is common, as the military base in Djibouti plays a critical role in the fight against terrorism.

Around 4,000 U.S. military personal are stationed at Camp Lemonnier. The base’s proximity to countries like Somalia and Yemen, where the U.S. regularly targets terrorists, allows for a strategic advantage.

Conversely, China’s new military and naval base in Djibouti, which opened last year, has been a cause of concern for U.S. officials.

China originally stated that the purpose of its new base was as a logistics hub for U.N. peacekeeping missions and anti-piracy patrols. But it is now viewed as part of China’s military expansions efforts into the Indian Ocean that has alarmed regional rival India.