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US accuses China of attacking its pilots with laser beams in Djibouti, Beijing denies

The US has accused China of targeting its pilots with high-grade laser beams in Djibouti - a charge rejected by Beijing.

US accuses China of attacking its pilots with laser beams in Djibouti, Beijing denies
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Djibouti: In what is likely to escalate tensions between the United States and China, the former on Friday accused the latter of targeting its pilots with high-grade lasers in Djibouti.

According to the WSJ, the US today lodged a formal complaint with China, alleging that the Chinese military injured two American airmen by directing high-grade lasers at their aircraft in Djibouti.

Addressing a press briefing, Pentagon spokeswoman Dana W White told reporters that Washington had requested Beijing to investigate incidents in the past few weeks in which US aircraft in Djibouti had been affected by the unauthorised Chinese laser activity.

The Pentagon spokeswoman further alleged that people at the east African base had been shining military-grade lasers at the US pilots coming to land.

According to reports, at least two US pilots on a cargo plane suffered minor eye injuries due to their targeting by locals using high-grade laser beams.

"This activity poses a big threat to our airmen," White said, adding that "the incidents had grown increasingly serious". 

China has, however, categorically rejected the allegation made by the US.

Reacting to the US charge, China`s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua dismissed the allegations and said, "After careful verification, we have told the US explicitly that the accusation is totally inconsistent with fact," she said.

The incidents with the lasers, which can temporarily blind pilots, come as one of the first major dust-ups since China opened its first overseas military base in Djibouti in 2017. 

The facility’s opening raised concerns among American military officials about the proximity of the Chinese military installation to American forces. The Chinese have characterised the base as a logistics hub for peacekeeping and anti-piracy operations.

American authorities recently issued a notice, warning pilots to "use extreme caution when transiting near the area".

Military-grade laser beams, occasionally known as "dazzlers", emit a powerful beam of light that can travel great distances and be used to illuminate aircraft cockpits, temporarily blinding pilots.

The US and China both have bases in Djibouti, an East African nation on the Gulf of Aden with fewer than one million people. Djibouti has become a hub of foreign military activity in recent years, hosting bases from an array of countries including France, Italy and Japan. Saudi Arabia is planning to build a base there as well.

(With Agency inputs)