A US warship that was forced to maneuver to avoid a collision with a Chinese naval vessel had “posed a threat,” state-run media said yesterday after Washington accused China of being the aggressor.
The Global Times newspaper, which often takes a nationalistic stance, said the USS Cowpens guided missile cruiser had “come to China’s threshold and posed a threat to China’s military security.”
Washington issued a formal protest after the incident in the South China Sea between the Cowpens and a Chinese navy vessel on Dec. 5, insisting that the ships were in international waters.
Beijing claims almost the whole of the South China Sea, even areas close to the coasts of other littoral states.
“If the American navy and air force always encroach near China’s doorstep, ‘confrontation’ is bound to take place,” the Global Times said. “As China’s strength grows, the US should learn to communicate with and respect China if it doesn’t want a collision on the sea or in the air,” it said.
The standoff underscored tensions that escalated after Beijing last month declared an expanded “air defense identification zone” in the East China Sea.
Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Hua Chunying (華春瑩) referred questions on the incident to the defense ministry.
However, she added: “I can tell you in principle that China respects the freedom of navigation and overflight that is in accordance with international laws.”
The near-miss at sea is the most significant maritime incident between the US and China since 2009, when five Chinese ships surrounded and harassed a US Navy surveillance ship in the same waters.
US naval officers and defense officials said last week that the Chinese ship had crossed directly in front of the Cowpens and halted less than 500m away, forcing the US ship to take evasive action to avoid a collision.
The Global Times quoted an anonymous Chinese military expert as saying the US “was tailing after and harassing” China’s Liaoning aircraft carrier, which was conducting drills in the area, and that the USS Cowpens had come within 45km of the “inner defense layer of the Chinese fleet.”
“Bad guys always claim innocence first,” the source told the paper, adding that the US warship “took offensive actions at first towards the Liaoning formation on the day of the confrontation.”
Su Hao (蘇浩), a professor of Asia-Pacific studies at China Foreign Affairs University, defended the Chinese vessel’s actions, saying they were necessary to protect Beijing’s maritime rights.
“The Chinese took action only after the US vessels refused to comply with warnings,” he told the China Daily newspaper.