Australian navy pilots claim that they were forced to land their helicopters after Chinese militia boats aimed lasers at them during a routine exercise over the South China Sea.
The laser-induced, precautionary grounding is just the latest of many similar accounts by pilots from the U.S. and elsewhere, according to The Guardian — but now the Chinese government is denying that the incident ever took place.
A spokesman for the Chinese military told reporters on Thursday that the account is “not consistent with the facts,” according to The Associated Press.
The spokesman, Wu Qian, said that Australia ought to “reflect on itself” instead of blaming China.
According to the original account given by Australian officials and academics who witnessed the flight exercise, Chinese fishing boats that serve as a sort of border-patrolling militia followed the helicopters from a “discreet distance,” per The Guardian.
For now, it remains unclear whether the lasers were switched on by startled fishermen or if they were part of a coordinated move to disrupt the Australian exercise.
“The apparent use of lasers in a pseudo-military context is a new development,” Australian National University maritime law expert Don Rothwell told The Guardian.
READ MORE: Australian navy pilots hit with lasers during South China Sea military exercise [The Guardian]