Sun, Jan 20, 2008 - Page 3 News List

ANALYSIS: Rumors of US-Chinese naval standoff sweep the US


Was there a serious US-Chinese naval confrontation in the Taiwan Strait in November, or wasn't there? Nobody, it seems, knows for sure.

But reports of such a confrontation sped across the Pacific Ocean to the US with the speed of modern Internet communications this week and the story seemed to get bigger at each step along the way.

Finally, it was officially denied, but the denial was itself considered suspect by some observers and the issue may not be dead.

It started when the Chinese-language China Times reported on Tuesday that the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk and its battle group was intercepted in the Strait by the Chinese guided missile warship, the Shenzhen, and a Song-class submarine, after being denied entry to Hong Kong for a Thanksgiving visit.

The US ships were heading to their home port of Yokosuka Naval Base in Japan through the Strait when the incident occurred, the China Times reported. Accosted by the Chinese vessels, the Kitty Hawk stopped and "assumed a combat position," and the confrontation lasted more than two days before each side stepped down, the paper said.

Indeed, the Shenzhen was heading in the same direction as the Kitty Hawk at the time and landed at Yokosuka on a courtesy call at about the same time as did the Kitty Hawk, to become the first Chinese warship to visit Japan since World War II.

Japan's Kyodo news bureau in Taipei, on Thursday, did a story on the China Times report, which in turn was picked up by the Navy Times. Japanese newspapers ran similar stories.

From there, the story spread like wildfire.

Within hours, US congressional staffers and others in Washington were asking Taiwanese reporters about the incident, which became the talk of the Taiwan media in the US capital.

Then, in a "news" story that appeared to assume the worst, Fox TV network news picked up the story, with its newsreader commenting that the reported standoff was "serious."

By the time Fox aired the report, the commander of US forces in the Pacific, Admiral Timothy Keating, had already denied the story as totally false, as did the Pentagon's East Asia spokesman, Stewart Upton, in Washington.

Nevertheless, a grave-faced Fox newsreader told viewers: "We are now hearing about a serious showdown between a US battle group and the Chinese Navy ... some kind of incident between US warships and a Chinese attack submarine and destroyer."

"This is serious," she said.

Punctuating the report was an interview with a Fox military analyst, Lieutenant General Tim McInerney, who speculated that there was "a little game going on here," between the US and Chinese navies, going on to explain why and how the confrontation could have occurred.

As the general delivered his scenario commentary, the screen was filled with Kitty Hawk file film of warships firing missiles and destroying enemy vessels at sea and ships in various war formations, under a foreboding sky.

No place in the report did the general or the newsreader note that the original story might be wrong. Nor did the broadcast indicate that the station had tried to confirm or deny the report.

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