China Says Navy Drove US Warship From South China Sea Reef

A tense encounter unfolded Sunday between U.S. and Chinese vessels in the South China Sea. In 2013, the USS Cowpens was forced to take evasive action in order to avoid a collision with a Chinese warship less than 460 meters (500 yards) off its bow while operating in worldwide waters in the South China Sea.

In this file photo taken on October 21, 2016, the destroyer USS Decatur operates in the South China Sea as part of the Bonhomme Richard Expeditionary Strike Group. The destroyer "approached within 45 yards of Decatur's bow, after which Decatur maneuvered to prevent a collision", he said.

The US said its plane was conducting routine operations in worldwide airspace, and called the incident an unsafe intercept.

Gaven Reef is located in the Spratly Islands chain in the South China Sea where China claims seven man-made islands as its own.

China expressed anger at the U.S operation, calling it a threat to its sovereignty.

The incident comes as tensions between Washington and Beijing escalate over a wide range of issues, including trade, Taiwan, sanctions, and increased American military activity in an area Beijing perceives as being in its sphere of influence, though an worldwide tribunal discredited its claims in a 2016 ruling.

Although the US takes no position on the competing claims, its navy regularly carries out freedom of navigation operations - known as "FONOPs" - by sending warships and aircraft near disputed waters to demonstrate the right to travel through what it considers worldwide waters and airspace.

Chinese vessels have approached U.S. Navy ships during previous FONOPs in the South China Sea, but Sunday's encounter appears to the be the closest one yet.

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China's defence ministry said the Chinese vessel was conducting "normal patrols" when the two vessels "met", adding that the countries' defence departments "carried out effective communication".

The US vessel was conducting a freedom of navigation operation near the disputed Spratly Islands and was forced to alter its path "to prevent a collision", US media report.

The U.S. military last sailed a warship within 12 nautical miles of a contested Chinese island in May, the internationally recognized territorial boundary. The U.S. would "continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere global law allows", said Gorman, the Pacific Fleet spokesman.

The Chinese military too voiced its opposition to the United States ship sailing through the area.

China said it drove away a U.S. Navy warship that sailed close to a Chinese-occupied feature in the disputed South China Sea, in the latest show of tensions between the countries amid their escalating trade war.

Last week, the Pentagon said the B-52s had transited over the South China Sea as part of "regularly scheduled operations created to enhance our interoperability with our partners and allies in the region".

Beijing and Washington are locked in a trade war in which they have imposed increasingly severe rounds of tariffs on each other's imports.

Beijing has tried to turn reefs and rocks in the area into artificial islands in order to claim them, the Washington Post reports.

(Copyright © 2015. All Rights Reserved.)
 
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