Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks to the media at the Melbourne Commonwealth Parliament Office in Melbourne, Australia February 11, 2022. Darrian Traynor/Pool via REUTERS

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MELBOURNE, Feb 20 (Reuters) – Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has accused Beijing of an “act of intimidation” after a Chinese navy ship aimed a laser at an Australian military surveillance plane last week.

A P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft was illuminated Thursday as it flew over the northern approaches to Australia by a laser beam from a People’s Liberation Army-Navy (PLA-N) ship, potentially setting lives at risk, the Ministry of Defense said. Read more

Morrison said his government would demand answers from Beijing.

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“I see nothing but an act of intimidation, an… unprovoked, unjustified,” Morrison said during a briefing. “And Australia will never accept such acts of intimidation.”

Defense Minister Peter Dutton called the incident “a very aggressive act” which took place in Australia’s exclusive economic zone.

“I think the Chinese government hopes that nobody will speak about these aggressive acts of intimidation,” Dutton told Sky News television. “We see different forms of it across the region and in many parts of the world.”

The Chinese vessel was sailing east with another PLA-N vessel through the Arafura Sea at the time of the incident, the department said. The sea lies between the northern coast of Australia and the southern coast of New Guinea.

Relations between Australia and China, its biggest trading partner, soured after Canberra banned Huawei Technologies Co Ltd [RIC:RIC:HWT.UL] of its 5G broadband network in 2018, toughened laws against foreign policy interference and called for an independent investigation into the origins of COVID-19.

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Reporting by Lidia Kelly; edited by Jonathan Oatis

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