A US navy vessel has come perilously close to a Chinese warship during an exercise in the disputed waters of the South China Sea, forcing the USS Decatur to take evasive manoeuvres to avoid a collision.
Captain Charles Brown, spokesman for US Pacific Fleet, said in a statement that the Chinese Luyang destroyer approached the USS Decatur guided missile destroyer in an “unsafe and unprofessional manoeuvre in the vicinity of Gaven Reef in the South China Sea”.
At one critical point in the confrontation, the two warships were just 45 yards from each other, as the Chinese warship repeatedly warned the USS Decatur to leave the area near the disputed Spratly Islands.
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“The Chinese vessel took quick action and made checks against the US vessel in accordance with the law, and warned it to leave the waters,” the Chinese defence ministry told the South China Morning Post.
The USS Decatur was in the region conducting a so-called “freedom of navigation operation”, which the US periodically undertakes as a display to China that Beijing’s claim to sovereignty over the waters and islands in the area has not been internationally recognised.
“Our forces will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows,” Captain Brown said in a statement.
Carl Schuster, a former US Navy captain who spent 12 years at sea, explained to CNN that the close proximity of the two warships was of major concern.
“This was very dangerous. Captains get very nervous when ships get closer than 1,000 yards (915 metres)," said Schuster, who currently lectures at Hawaii Pacific University.
The close encounter comes at a time when there is “an increasingly tense relationship” between the US and China, The Independent says, as the two nations are engaged in a tit-for-tat trade war.
The confrontation also comes just days after Donald Trump publicly accused Beijing of meddling in the upcoming midterm elections in November, during a meeting of the UN security council in New York.
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