The United States formally complained to China after Chinese nationals pointed lasers at US military aircraft near Djibouti in recent weeks, the Pentagon said, an account strongly disputed by China.
Djibouti, on the Horn of Africa, hosts a US military base home to about 4,000 personnel, including special operations forces and is a launch pad for operations in Yemen and Somalia.
The US military has been grappling with lasers being pointed at aircraft for decades. The Pentagon accusations highlight concerns the United States has about a Chinese military base just miles from a critical US base in Djibouti.
“They are serious incidents. We have formally démarched the Chinese government and we’ve requested the Chinese investigate these incidents,” Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White told reporters.
White said the Pentagon was confident the lasers were pointed by Chinese nationals. In the past few weeks no fewer than 10 incidents happened. The intent was unclear.
A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said in one incident last month, pilots in a C-130 suffered minor eye injuries.
The official said in a few instances, military grade lasers from the Chinese base were pointed at aircraft.
In a brief statement, China’s Defence Ministry said the US accusations were false.
“We have already refuted the untrue criticisms via official channels. The Chinese side consistently strictly abides by international law and laws of the local country and is committed to protecting regional security and stability.”
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said government conducted “serious checks” and told the US side the accusations were groundless.
“You can remind the relevant US person to keep in mind the truthfulness of what they say and to not swiftly speculate or make accusations,” she told a daily briefing in Beijing.
Djibouti is strategically located at the southern entrance to the Red Sea on the route to the Suez Canal.
This year, the US military put countering China, along with Russia, at the centre of a new national defence strategy.