China forces run-in at sea as warships nearly collide
BEIJING — An American guided-missile cruiser operating in international waters in the South China Sea was forced to take evasive action this month to avoid a collision with a Chinese warship, the Pacific Fleet has revealed.
“The U.S. has raised this issue at a high level with the Chinese government,” a State Department spokesperson told Stars and Stripes.
The Chinese People's Liberation Army, or PLA, navy vessel on Dec. 5 tried to get the USS Cowpens to stop, according to military officials.
“I don't know the intent of the guy driving that PLA ship,” one official told Stars and Stripes. “I just know that he was moving to impede and harass the Cowpens.”
It is unclear why the Chinese vessel wanted the Cowpens to stop.
China's government has not commented on the incident, but the state-run English language Global Times newspaper carried a report about it on Saturday that accused the U.S. military of “using the excuse of freedom of navigation on the high seas as a way to conduct close surveillance and monitoring of China's normal military activities.”
The Chinese government claims most of the South China as its territorial waters, but the United States and most other countries don't recognize it as such. The PLA navy's attempt to stop or impede the Cowpens may have been a symbolic attempt to assert its sovereignty over the area.
“It is not uncommon for navies to operate in close proximity, which is why it is paramount that all navies follow international standards for maritime rules of the road in order to maintain the highest levels of safety and professionalism,” said an official, who was not authorized to speak by name.
The official said the Dec. 5 incident was resolved eventually “when effective bridge-to-bridge communication occurred between the U.S. and Chinese crews, and both vessels maneuvered to ensure safe passage.”
Friction has been growing between the militaries of the United States and China.
Last month, China unilaterally established an “air defense identification zone” in the East China Sea, encompassing a chain of small, rocky islands that it claims sovereignty over but that are administered by Japan.
It warned that any noncommercial aircraft entering the zone without notice could face “defensive emergency measures,” but the United States immediately called China's bluff by flying B-52 bombers through the zone.
A few days later, China scrambled fighter jets to track U.S. and Japanese military aircraft flying through the zone.
The establishment of the air defense zone was seen as part of China's increasingly assertive and nationalistic stance over disputed maritime territory contested with many of its neighbors.
Dean Cheng of the Heritage Foundation told The Washington Post that the latest incident was part of a trend that goes back to 2011 and that there was little doubt that it was intentional, occurring after the air defense zone was set up and just before a visit by Vice President Joe Biden.
“All of this is consistent,” Cheng said. “It reflects a very Chinese point of view that these are our waters, under our control, and everyone else should leave. The Chinese are pushing their claims, willing to run risks, willing to be aggressive.”
Shortly after establishing the air defense zone, China deployed its only aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, to the South China Sea for military drills. At the time, the Global Times complained that during its voyage, “warplanes and aircraft from the U.S. and Japan nervously followed the Chinese carrier, trying to put psychological pressure on the Chinese people.”
David Finkelstein of the Center for Naval Analysis said the Cowpens incident did not appear to be tied to the air defense zone.
“My gut would suggest to me that this dangerous and uncalled-for activity was a local initiative by the local Chinese commanders,” Finkelstein said. “I see this as a task force that used less than professional methods to protect their carrier, thereby engaging in potentially dangerous behavior.”
The encounter with the Cowpens is not the first time that Chinese ships have acted aggressively against Navy vessels. In one high-profile incident in March 2009, five Chinese ships harassed the USNS Impeccable in international waters in the South China Sea, forcing the Impeccable to make an emergency maneuver in order to avoid collision. During the confrontation, crew members waved Chinese flags and told the Impeccable to leave the area, the Pentagon said at the time.
Stars and Stripes and The Washington Post contributed to this report.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Official: Air Algerie flight ‘probably crashed’
- Israeli fire hits UN facility in Gaza, killing 15
- 47 killed in Taiwan plane crash; 11 hurt
- Acetaminophen no better for back pain than placebo, researchers report
- Suicide bombs in Nigeria kill 82; ex-leader targeted
- Ukraine rebel leader admits they had BUK
- Bodies of Malaysia Airlines plane crash victims return to Netherlands
- Afghan officer sentenced to death in photographer’s killing
- Junta gets expanse of powers in document
- Putin’s stance on Ukraine is bad for business, Russian billionaires say
- Cease-fire unravels as Hamas continues to fire rockets at Israel