TAIPEI/BEIJING (Reuters) – The US Navy has released video of what it described as an “unsafe interaction” in the Taiwan Strait, in which a Chinese warship crossed in front of a US destroyer in the sensitive waterway, which was fraught with danger. The incident occurred amid the deterioration of Sino-US relations.
The standoff comes as the two countries trade blame for not holding military talks – with the two countries at loggerheads over everything from trade and Taiwan to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – and raises the specter of future confrontations that could spiral out of control.
The destroyer USS Chung Hun and Canadian frigate HSMC Montreal were making a “routine” transit of the strait on Saturday when the Chinese ship clipped in front of the US ship, 150 yards (137 meters) away, the US military said.
In the video, released by the US Navy late Sunday, a Chinese warship can be seen clearly sailing past Chong Hun in calm waters. The Chung-Hoon does not change course.
A voice can be heard in English, apparently sending a radio message to the Chinese ship, warning of “attempts to restrict freedom of navigation”, although the exact wording is unclear due to wind noise.
“Problems and provocations”
“The measures taken by the Chinese army are completely reasonable, legal, professional and safe,” said Wang Wenbin, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry.
“The United States caused trouble and provocation first, while China dealt with it according to law and regulations afterwards,” Wang said at a regular press conference on Monday when asked about the video released by the US Navy.
China’s Defense Ministry did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment on Monday.
On Saturday night, the Chinese military reprimanded the United States and Canada for “deliberately provoking risks” with their rare joint sailing.
Chinese military commentator Song Zhongping told Reuters that this “empty objection” was evidence of the capabilities and “bravery” of the Chinese navy.
“The more severe the provocation by the United States, the stronger the countermeasures by China,” Song said.
This is the second meeting of its kind in recent days.
On May 26, a Chinese fighter jet carried out an “unnecessarily aggressive” maneuver near a US military aircraft over the South China Sea in international airspace, according to the US.
“It appears to me that Beijing has instructed its forces to respond more decisively against what it believes to be encroaching on US and allied forces,” said Derek Grossman, a senior defense analyst at the RAND Corporation, a US think tank.
He added, “By doing so, China only increases the chances of miscalculation – that is, ships or planes being hit by mistake – which could then spiral into armed conflict.”
In 2001, an American spy plane made an emergency landing on the Chinese island of Hainan after colliding with a Chinese fighter jet, the pilot of which died.
Taiwan’s Defense Ministry on Sunday called China’s actions with the US and Canadian ships “provocative” and said maintaining peace and stability in the strait is a common responsibility of free and democratic countries.
“Any measures to increase tension and danger will not contribute to regional security,” it said in a statement.
The ministry called on China to respect the right to freedom of navigation.
China regards Taiwan as its own territory, a claim the government in Taipei vehemently rejects.
Beijing is ramping up its military and political pressure to try to force Taiwan to accept its sovereignty, including holding regular maneuvers near the island.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Lori Chen) Additional reporting by Martin Pollard in Beijing and Liz Lee and The Newsroom in Beijing. Editing by Jerry Doyle
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