- A Chinese destroyer challenged the USS Decatur in the South China Sea on Sunday as the latter attempted to pass near a Chinese-occupied island, CNN first reported, citing US officials.
- US officials characterised the incident as “unsafe,” saying the Chinese warship sailed within 45 yards of the US naval vessel.
- The incident comes amid rising tensions between the naval powers.
- These types of missions, often a thorn in Beijing’s side, demonstrate that the US does not recognise China’s extensive and previously discredited territorial claims in the South China Sea.
The Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy reportedly took on the US Navy in a showdown in the South China Sea on Sunday during a freedom-of-navigation operation involving the USS Decatur.
A Chinese Luyang-class destroyer steered within 45 yards of the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer near the Spratly Islands in a confrontational exchange that US officials deemed “unsafe,”CNN first reported on Monday.
The Chinese vessel “approached USS Decatur in an unsafe and unprofessional manoeuvre in the vicinity of Gaven Reef in the South China Sea,” engaging 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, adding that the US Navy ship was forced to manoeuvre to prevent a collision.
“US Navy ships and aircraft operate throughout the Indo-Pacific routinely, including in the South China Sea,” the statement continued. “As we have for decades, our forces will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows.”
The incident comes as tensions between Washington and Beijing escalate over a wide range of issues, including trade, Taiwan, sanctions, and increased American military activity in an area Beijing perceives as being in its sphere of influence, though an international tribunal discredited its claims in a 2016 ruling.
US Air Force B-52 Stratofortress heavy long-range bombers flew through both the East Sea and the South China Sea last week. Beijing described the flights as “provocative” and warned that it would use “necessary means” to defend its national interests.
China said on Friday that it had conducted “live-fire shooting drills” in the South China Sea in a show of force in the contested region.
Last month, the UK Royal Navy amphibious assault ship HMS Albion challenged China’s claims to the contested waterway by sailing near the Paracel Islands. In response, China’s military dispatched a frigate and two helicopters to confront the British ship.
The Chinese military has also repeatedly issued warnings to US and other foreign aircraft that venture to close to its territorial holdings in the region, many of which have been armed with anti-ship and surface-to-air missiles, among other weapons systems.
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