US,China ships nearly collide in S China Sea

The near collision,which occurred on December 5 but did not become public until Friday.

Written by New York Times | Beijing | Published:December 15, 2013 12:36 am

In a sign of the increased tensions between the United States and China on the open seas,navy vessels from the two countries almost collided in the South China Sea when a Chinese ship cut across the bow of an American cruiser,a senior United States defence official said Saturday.

An accident was averted when the missile-carrying cruiser Cowpens,travelling in international waters,manoeuvered to avoid the Chinese vessel,the official said. At the time,the American ship was observing China’s new aircraft carrier,which was also in the vicinity.

The near collision,which occurred on December 5 but did not become public until Friday,was one more example of the growing rivalry between China,a rising maritime power,and the US,the dominant naval power in the Pacific region since World War II.

The episode at sea came as the Obama administration has chastised China for imposing an air defence identification zone in East China Sea over islands and airspace also claimed by Japan. In announcing the zone,the Chinese said they would require planes entering the area to file advance flight plans,a demand the US and Japan have both defied.

The information office at the Chinese Ministry of National Defence did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the maritime encounter.

The Cowpens was observing the Chinese carrier,the Liaoning,as it made its first voyage in the South China Sea from its home base in Qingdao,the headquarters of China’s North Sea Fleet,the defence official and American Navy experts said.

The Chinese vessel cut across the bow of the America ship at a distance of less than 200 yards,the defence official said. The vessel was similar to an American tank landing ship and was accompanying the aircraft carrier.

The tactic of the Chinese ship “was particularly aggressive” and “unhelpful in trying to increase cooperation between the two navies,” he said.

American officials said Cowpens had been adhering to international guidelines. “Our cruiser was operating in international waters of the South China Sea,not close into the coast and in the general vicinity of the aircraft carrier,” the defence official said.

JANE PERLEZ

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