Chinese Military Ship Confronts U.S. Cruiser as Tensions Rise

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December 13, 2013

Dec. 13 (Bloomberg) — A U.S. Navy guided-missile cruiser had a confrontation with a Chinese militaryship on Dec. 5 in the South China Sea, underscoring rising tensions in the region in the wake of China’s newly declared air-defense zone.

The USS Cowpens, operating in international waters, and a Chinese naval vessel “had an encounter that required maneuvering to avoid a collision,” the U.S. Pacific Fleet said in a statement.

“This incident underscores the need to ensure the highest standards of professional seamanship, including communications between vessels, to mitigate the risk of an unintended incident or mishap,” according to the Navy statement.

China was probably angry that the Cowpens may have been trying to spy on China’s only aircraft carrier, which was operating in the area, said Dean Cheng, an analyst at the Heritage Foundation’s Asian Studies Center in Washington.

“This was not an accident,” Cheng said in an interview. “It was deliberate. The Chinese are raising the ante.”

The near-collision, while was resolved peacefully, hints at the growing risk of confrontation as China seeks ways to assert its sovereignty in the region, Cheng said.

China last month unnerved its neighbors by declaring an air defense identification zone in the East China Sea that overlaps with Japan’s and includes uninhabited islands claimed by both nations.

“I think we’re going to see much more tension in the air and on the surface,” Cheng said. “In the South China Sea, we’ve been seeing a steady ratcheting up of pressure.”

’Getting Dangerous’

The Chinese vessel tried to force the Cowpens to stop, causing a military standoff, according to the Washington Free Beacon, a news website, which earlier reported the incident. The Cowpens continued on its course because it was operating in international waters.

After a second Chinese ship sailed in front of the Cowpens and stopped, the Cowpens was forced to change course to avoid a collision, the Free Beacon said.

“It’s getting dangerous out there,” said Patrick Cronin, a senior adviser for the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security in Washington. “Accidents happen. People can get killed out there through these maneuvers. We need more efforts at ways to tamp down or avert crises as they arise.”

Cronin said the incident appeared to be a “tit-for-tat” response to the U.S. refusing to recognize China’s new air defense zone.

“We’re making them look impotent with respect to the ADIZ,” Cronin said, referring to the acronym for air defense identification zone. By trying to block a U.S. ship, China is engaging in “a coercive diplomacy, it’s neither war nor peace,” he said.

– David Lerman, Copyright 2013 Bloomberg.

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