Feb. 28 (UPI) -- A Chinese warship fired a weapons-grade laser at a U.S. naval patrol aircraft in international airspace last week, the U.S. Navy said Thursday, chastising the Asian nation's actions as "unsafe and unprofessional."
Navy officials in Hawaii said a Chinese navy destroyer 161 targeted a U.S. Navy P-8A Poseidon aircraft while it was flying some 380 miles west of Guam over international waters on Feb. 17.
"The laser, which was not visible to the naked eye, was captured by a sensor onboard the P-8A," Pacific Fleet said in a statement. "Weapons-grade lasers could potentially cause serious harm to aircrew and mariners, as well as ship and aircraft systems."
The lasering violates the multilateral 2014 Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea and was inconsistent with a Memorandum of Understanding signed between the two countries' defense departments on behavior for safety of air and maritime encounters, Pacific Fleet said.
"U.S. Navy aircraft routinely fly in the Philippine Sea and have done so for many years," Pacific Fleet said. "U.S. Navy aircraft and ships will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows."
The incident comes amid heightened tensions between Washington and Beijing, as both Defense and State officials have warned about China's encroaching military and technological presence.
Earlier this month while speaking at a security conference in Munich, Germany, Defense Secretary Mark Esper warned that China's expansion of its military and technology capabilities pose a threat not only to the United States and other countries but to the international system that they are governed by.
"The PRC seeks to undermine and subvert this system, the same one that allowed them to rise and become what they are today," Esper said.
And Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has described the Chinese Communist Party as "the central threat of our times" and has been urging countries not to partner with Chinese companies Huawei or ZTE on developing their next generation of wireless technology, commonly referred to as 5G, as it poses "massive" security and privacy risks.
"With 5G capabilities, the CCP could use Huawei or ZTE's access to steal private or proprietary information or use 'kill switches' to disrupt critical future applications like electrical grids and telesurgery centers. And one only needs to look at the CCP's extensive human rights abuses in Xinjiang ... to see how it is using technology for mass repression," he wrote in an op-ed published by Politico referring to China repressing some 1 million of its Muslim citizens.
The United States has also recently openly condemned China for its suppression of ongoing pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong and over its treatment of Uighur and other Muslim minority groups.