US Navy destroyer USS Decatur had a close encounter with a Chinese destroyer during a freedom of navigation operation in the South China Sea on Sunday.
The unidentified Chinese destroyer came as close as 45 ft to USS Decatur in what was described as an “unsafe and unprofessional maneuver” by US Pacific Fleet Spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Tim Gorman.
The freedom of navigation operation itself was first reported on Sunday, with CNN sharing further details on the event late Monday.
“The (People’s Republic of China) PRC destroyer conducted a series of increasingly aggressive maneuvers accompanied by warnings for Decatur to depart the area. The PRC destroyer approached within 45 yards of Decatur’s bow, after which Decatur maneuvered to prevent a collision,” Cmdr. Nathan Christensen, a US Pacific Fleet spokesman, was quoted as saying by USNI News.
To remind, USS Decatur (DDG-73) challenged China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea with a freedom of navigation operation (FONOP) in the vicinity of the disputed Spratly Islands. Decatur came within 12 miles of Gaven and Johnson reefs in a region claimed by China, Taiwan, the Philippines and Vietnam.
China’s foreign ministry criticized the operation saying that Decatur sailed into waters close to China’s Nansha Islands without permission from the Chinese government.
“In response, the Chinese Navy identified and warned the ship to leave in accordance with laws,” foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said.
“China has indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea islands and their adjacent waters,” Hua reiterated adding that the US, “under the pretext of “navigation and overflight freedom”, violated basic norms governing international relations, threatened China’s sovereignty and security, and disturbed regional peace and stability.”
According to available information, this is the third time this year the US Navy has challenged China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea.
US Navy FONOPs conducted in the South China Sea at an increasing rate are in response to China’s militarization of artificially built islands in the South China Sea which include the Spratly and Paracel Islands and the Scarborough Shoal among others.
US officials say freedom of navigation operations are conducted in accordance with international aim and with the aim to challenge whatever excessive claims countries might have in disputed regions.