A close call occurred in the South China Sea between a United States Navy ship and a Chinese warship over the weekend.
The Chinese warship came within just 45-yards of the USS Decatur on Sunday in what was called an “unsafe” interaction, according to two defense officials who spoke with CNN on Monday.
Capt. Charles Brown, a spokesman for US Pacific Fleet, told CNN that “A (People’s Republic of China) Luyang destroyer approached USS Decatur in an unsafe and unprofessional maneuver in the vicinity of Gaven Reef in the South China Sea.”
He added that the Chinese ship “approached within 45 yards” of the USS Decatur, and “conducted a series of increasingly aggressive maneuvers accompanied by warnings for the Decatur to depart the area.”
The USS Decatur was forced to maneuver away “to prevent a collision.”
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The USS Decatur was conducting a “freedom of navigation” operation to ensure free passage for vessels in international waters. The operation took place in area of the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.
“US Forces operate in the Indo-Pacific region on a daily basis, including the South China Sea. All operations are designed in accordance with international law and demonstrate that the United States will fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows,” a US defense official told CNN over the weekend.
The Spratly Islands is one of the island groups claimed by China, who has militarized the Spratly, Paracel, and other island clusters. The Chinese military remains on edge about operations nearing their claim, especially amid trade tensions with the U.S.
The last freedom of navigation operation took place in May when two U.S. Navy warships traveled near the Paracel Islands.
Last week, the U.S. flew two B-52 bombers in a routine operation over the South China Sea, another action that worried Chinese officials. China’s Defense Ministry spokesman Ren Guoqiang called it a “provocative action” and warned, “we will take all necessary means to safeguard our rights and interests.”
Despite China’s warnings, the U.S. air and sea operations are considered routine and completely legal by international law.
“There’s nothing out of the ordinary about it, nor about our ship sailing through there,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters outside the Pentagon. “I’ve noticed that other nations have also incurred certain diplomatic wrath out of Beijing for sailing their ships through. It’s international waters, folks.”
Tensions between the U.S. and China continue to escalate as a result of the trade war, and sanctions on some Chinese companies. Recently, the Chinese government rejected the U.S. Navy’s request for the USS Wasp to visit the Hong Kong port. Additionally, last week President Trump accused China of trying to interfere in the 2018 elections.
“We’re sorting out, obviously, a period with some tension there, trade tension and all, so we’ll get to the bottom of it,” Mattis said last week. “But I don’t think that we’re seeing a fundamental shift in anything. We’re just going through one of those periodic points where we’ve got to learn to manage our differences.”