A Chinese destroyer pointed a laser at an American maritime patrol aircraft over the western Pacific Ocean last week, the US Navy said, calling the incident “unsafe and unprofessional”. The US Pacific Fleet said in a statement on Friday that the destroyer targeted the P-8A Poseidon aircraft as it flew over international waters about 610km (380 miles) west of Guam on February 17. “The laser, which was not visible to the naked eye, was captured by a sensor on board the P-8A,” the statement said. “Weapons-grade lasers could potentially cause serious harm to aircrew and mariners, as well as ship and aircraft systems.” It said the action by the Chinese warship had breached the multilateral Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea, which “specifically addresses the use of lasers that could cause harm to personnel or damage to equipment”. China’s arms industry back in business despite disruption by coronavirus The action was also “inconsistent” with a memorandum of understanding reached between the US and Chinese defence ministries on rules of behaviour for safety during air and maritime encounters, the US Pacific Fleet said. The P-8A is deployed to the Kadena Air Force Base in Okinawa, Japan, and is part of a squadron that conducts routine operations, maritime patrols and reconnaissance in the US 7th Fleet area of operations, according to the statement. China and the United States have exchanged tough words as tensions simmer over their military activities in the Asia-Pacific region, particularly over the South China Sea and Taiwan. The Chinese South Sea Fleet completed a 41-day drill in the western Pacific earlier this week, according to state media, in a move to show its military exercises were continuing even as the country battles the coronavirus epidemic. Meanwhile, the US Air Force sent two surveillance planes over the Taiwan Strait on February 12, after the People’s Liberation Army conducted naval and air force drills in the area. Collin Koh, a research fellow with the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Singapore's Nanyang Technological University, said the latest incident was a “serious provocation”, noting that the Chinese military had also pointed lasers at the US in Djibouti. “Use of lasers is as dangerous as manoeuvring one’s aerial or naval asset too close to another to cause the potential of collision – the lasers can pose a serious navigational hazard,” Koh said. “While both [the Chinese and US navies] have the legitimate right to carry out their activities on the high seas out there in the western Pacific – including the use of these platforms to monitor each other – the use of lasers to endanger navigation in fact represents a serious provocation,” he said. “The US Navy P-8A might have flown lower for closer observation, but I don’t think it went to the point of risking a collision with the [Chinese] warship.” The incident was likely to further undermine trust and military stability between China and the United States, Koh said. Conflict prevention in the South China Sea depends on China abiding by the existing rules of navigation “It also wouldn’t be the first time the [Chinese navy] formations would have had ‘company’ from US military assets keeping tabs on them,” he said. But Hong Kong-based military commentator Song Zhongping rejected the US Navy’s claim that the Chinese warship had violated the code of conduct, saying its action was just a routine warning. “The US is unhappy because the Chinese fleet was very close to Guam, and it saw the Chinese fleet as taking an unfriendly measure against the US,” he said. “But it’s normal for a naval fleet and aircraft to send warnings to each other,” Song said. “If the other side’s reconnaissance plane gets too close to vessels, it can be a security risk. So they take self-defence measures.” Additional reporting by Minnie Chan Purchase the China AI Report 2020 brought to you by SCMP Research and enjoy a 20% discount (original price US$400). This 60-page all new intelligence report gives you first-hand insights and analysis into the latest industry developments and intelligence about China AI. Get exclusive access to our webinars for continuous learning, and interact with China AI executives in live Q&A. Offer valid until 31 March 2020.