U.S. to China: Back off!
Last updated 3-12-09 at 2:09 p.m.
WASHINGTON, D.C. (AP) — The Pentagon contended on March 9 that five Chinese ships had shadowed and then maneuvered dangerously close to a U.S. Navy vessel in an apparent attempt to harass its crew.
Officials of the U.S. Defense Department said the incident took place on Sunday in international waters in the South China Sea, south of Hainan Island, after several days of “increasingly aggressive” acts by Chinese ships in the region.
U.S. officials said a protest was delivered to Beijing’s military attaché at a Pentagon meeting on Monday.
The U.S. Navy said its ship, the Impeccable, had sprayed one Chinese ship with water from fire hoses to force it away. Despite the force of the water, Chinese crew members stripped to their underwear and continued closing to within 7 meters, or 25 feet, the U.S. Defense Department said.
“On March 8, 2009, five Chinese vessels shadowed and aggressively maneuvered in dangerously close proximity to USNS Impeccable, in an apparent coordinated effort to harass the U.S. ocean surveillance ship while it was conducting routine operations in international waters,” the Pentagon statement said.
The Chinese flotilla included a Chinese Navy intelligence collection ship, a Bureau of Maritime Fisheries Patrol Vessel, a State Oceanographic Administration patrol vessel, and two small Chinese-flagged trawlers, officials said.
The crew on the U.S. ship radioed to tell the Chinese ships that it was leaving the area and requested a safe path to navigate, the Pentagon said. But shortly afterward, two of the Chinese ships stopped directly ahead of the Impeccable and forced it to an emergency stop to avoid collision because the Chinese had dropped pieces of wood in the water directly in front of the Impeccable’s path, the Pentagon said.
“The unprofessional maneuvers by Chinese vessels violated the requirement under international law to operate with due regard for the rights and safety of other lawful users of the ocean,” said Maj. Stewart Upton, a Pentagon spokesman.
In Beijing, Chinese officials did not immediately respond to telephone and e-mail messages.
The incident came just a week after China and the United States resumed military-to-military consultations after a five-month suspension because of U.S. weapons sales to Taiwan. In addition, Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi was due in Washington this week to meet with U.S. officials. (end)