- New details and video have emerged from the close encounter between a Chinese warship and a US Navy destroyer in the South China Sea.
- The transcript of the radio exchange obtained by the South China Morning Post from the British Ministry of Defence suggests that the Chinese naval vessel threatened the US destroyer, warning that it would “suffer consequences.”
A Chinese warship threatened a US Navy destroyer during a tense showdown in the South China Sea in late September, according to new details of the encounter.
A Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy Type 052C Luyang II-class destroyer challenged the US Navy Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer Decatur during a routine freedom-of-navigation operation near the disputed Spratly Islands. The Chinese warship sailed within 45 yards of the American vessel, nearly colliding with the US destroyer.
The Chinese vessel “approached USS Decatur in an unsafe and unprofessional manoeuvre in the vicinity of Gaven Reef in the South China Sea,” where it engaged in “a series of increasingly aggressive maneuvers accompanied by warnings for Decatur to depart,” a spokesman for the US Pacific Fleet said in a statement. The Decatur was forced to change course to avoid a collision.
A transcript of the radio exchange between the two naval vessels obtained by the South China Morning Post from the British Ministry of Defence shows that the Chinese ship threatened the Decatur, warning that it would “suffer consequences” if it did not move.
“You are on [sic] dangerous course,” the Chinese destroyer warned over the radio. “If you don’t change course, your [sic] will suffer consequences.”
“We are conducting innocent passage,” the Decatur reportedly replied.
In a video of the incident, an unidentified Navy sailor can be heard saying the Chinese ship is “trying to push us out of the way.”
The video is a little unclear, but there appear to be ship fenders deployed off deck, Collin Koh, a research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, noted on Twitter. He explained that “fenders are designed to mitigate the kinetic impact of a collision,” adding that the deployment was “clearly an indication of preparedness for such an eventuality.”
— Ankit Panda (@nktpnd) October 2, 2018
Ankit Panda, a foreign-policy expert who is a senior editor at The Diplomat, called the incident “the PLAN’s most direct and dangerous attempt to interfere with lawful US Navy navigation in the South China Sea to date.”
Unsafe or unprofessional encounters between the US Navy and the Chinese military are, however, not particularly uncommon. “We have found records of 19 unsafe and/or unprofessional interactions with China and Russia since 2016 (18 with China and one with Russia),” Cmdr. Nate Christensen, a spokesman for the US Pacific Fleet, recently told CNN.
A number of these incidents involved dangerous Chinese intercepts of US Navy aircraft. In August, the Chinese military sent six warnings to a US Navy P-8A Poseidon reconnaissance plane, warning it to “leave immediately and keep out.”
It is potentially noteworthy that the details of the showdown between the US and Chinese warships in the South China Sea came from the British Ministry of Defence, as a British naval vessel also found itself in a standoff with the Chinese military in the South China Sea not too long ago.
In early September, China dispatched a frigate to take on the UK Royal Navy amphibious assault ship Albion when it sailed too close to Chinese outposts in the Paracel Islands. China called the incident a provocation and warned that it would “take all necessary measures to defend its sovereignty and security.”
The US Navy is apparently expecting incidents like this to occur more frequently. The US and China “will meet each other more and more on the high seas,” Chief of US Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson said Tuesday.