Recently revealed information indicates a confrontation between the United States Navy and the Chinese Navy that led to a tense moment in the South China Sea. The incident which occurred last Friday was resolved peacefully but is the latest sign of Chinese military aggression in international waters and airspace.
“On December 5th, while lawfully operating in international waters in the South China Sea, USS Cowpens, (CG-63), and a PLA Navy vessel had an encounter that required maneuvering to avoid a collision,” a Navy official said. The guided missile cruiser recently took part in disaster relief operations in the Philippines and was confronted by Chinese warships in the South China Sea near Beijing’s new aircraft carrier Liaoning according to officials familiar with the incident.
As frequently occurs between different countries, the USS Cowpens was conducting surveillance of the Liaoning at the time. The carrier had recently sailed from the port of Qingdao on the northern Chinese coast into the South China Sea. According to the officials, the run-in began after a Chinese navy vessel sent a hailing warning and ordered the Cowpens to stop. The cruiser continued on its course and refused the order because it was operating in international waters. Navy officials described it as a highly unusual encounter because the Chinese ship came so close to the American vessel. The commanding officer issued orders for an “all stop” when the Chinese ship was less than 500 yards off its bow. “It is unusual to have to take evasive action at sea to avoid a collision,” one official said. The United States sees this incident as one that could have led to a collision because of the time and distance it takes for a warship this size to stop.
This incident follows closely on the heels of another incident over the Senkaka Islands in the China Sea. Both Japan and China are in dispute over the islands ownership but the United States rallied around their ally Japan in the incident. China claims the airspace over the islands as theirs, however, the United States considers them in international waters as well.
This is yet another incident underscoring the need to ensure the highest standards of professional seamanship or airmanship, including communications between ships at sea or aircraft to mitigate the risk of an unintended incident or mishap. No weapons were fired and the incident was resolved but no further details have been provided. A State Department official said the U.S. government issued protests to China in both Washington and Beijing in both diplomatic and military channels.
Click here to read my report on the Senkaka Island incident: https://fggam.org/the-new-cold-war/