No details were provided such as duration of exposure, type of laser used (dazzler, rangefinder, high power), or range from the ship to the aircraft.
The Navy notes that the use of a laser on an aircraft violates multiple international agreements.
Additionally, these acts violate the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea (CUES), a multilateral agreement reached at the 2014 Western Pacific Naval Symposium to reduce the chance of an incident at sea. CUES specifically addresses the use of lasers that could cause harm to personnel or damage to equipment. The destroyer’s actions were also inconsistent with a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between U.S. Department of Defense and the Ministry of National Defense of the PRC regarding rules of behavior for safety of air and maritime encounters. (1)
On the face of it, this is an odd incident, being so far beyond even the China’s ridiculous territorial claims. A few possible reasons spring to mind.
Force Down – Reminiscent of the Chinese force down of the US EP-3 aircraft, they may have been hoping to disrupt the aircraft enough to force a crash although a water crash would have provided no opportunity to seize the aircraft, as happened with the EP-3.
Message – The Chinese, while not explicitly claiming the entire Pacific Ocean, yet, have not hesitated to publicly denounce the US presence in the Pacific anywhere west of Hawaii. This might have been intended as yet another message for the US Navy to leave the Pacific.
Limits – This may have been a simple continuation of their practice of testing how far they can push the limits of US patience and appeasement before provoking a response.
Of the three listed possibilities, the latter seems the most likely. As we’ve often discussed, appeasement simply encourages and guarantees more incidents, more frequent incidents, and more serious incidents. The US display of patience and appeasement is actually counterproductive to maintaining peace in the region. At some point, we need to respond forcefully and decisively. The Chinese destroyer, presumably on a solo mission, should be made the target of several strike exercises by assets out of Guam.
(1)Naval News website, “Chinese Destroyer Lased a U.S. Navy P-8A Poseidon MPA”, Xavier Vavasseur, 28-Feb-2020,https://www.navalnews.com/naval-news/2020/02/chinese-destroyer-lased-a-u-s-navy-p-8a-poseidon-mpa/