China has been accused of firing military-grade lasers at U.S. planes landing in the East African nation of Djibouti. The U.S. believes Chinese nationals are behind two recent incidents involving four-engine military transport planes making their landings at Camp Lemonnier. Pentagon spokesperson Dana White said the lasers caused minor eye injuries to two American pilots.
Camp Lemonnier, established after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, is home to about 4,000 personnel, including some involved in highly secretive missions in the region. The base, operated by the Navy, is the only permanent American base in Africa. It is located adjacent to Djibouti’s international airport. The country is located where the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden meet.
The laser fire is believed to have come from China’s new base in Djibouti. The base, China’s first overseas, opened last year as a military and logistics base to support antipiracy, counterterrorism and humanitarian operations in Africa and the Middle East. It is located about 10.5 kilometers from the U.S. installation at Camp Lemonnier.
China is denying the accusations from the U.S. Hua Chunying, a spokesperson for China’s Foreign Ministry, said the allegations were “completely inconsistent with the facts.” China’s Ministry of National Defense said in a written response: “The Chinese side has refuted the untrue allegations made by the United States through official channels.”
China did not explain why the U.S. claims are untrue in its response. White said the U.S. is “confident” in its assessment of the situation. White added that the Pentagon had issued a formal complaint over the matter. China has signed the Protocol on Blinding Laser Weapons, which bans the use of lasers that cause blindness in warfare.
The United States is also objecting to the deployment of antiaircraft and anti-ship missiles on islands that China claims in the South China Sea. While China has long claimed the area, other nations also have claims there, including Vietnam and the Philippines. An international arbitration panel ruled against its territorial claims in 2016.
The missile systems have the potential to threaten aircraft and ships that approach the disputed territories. Ms. Hua said the deployment of weapons to the islands were defensive and intended “to safeguard China’s sovereignty and security.” She added, “Anyone with no invasive intention will find no reason to worry about this.”