US and Chinese navies face off in South China Sea• Pentagon claims ship was surrounded in international waters
• Chinese sailors strip to underwear as US vessel sprays hoses in defence
Go To Original
China and America have been drawn into a rare confrontation on the high seas, it emerged today, when the Pentagon accused Chinese ships of manoeuvring dangerously close to a US navy vessel.
The US intends to protest to the Chinese military attache in Washington after Sunday's incident, which followed several days of what US defence officials called "increasingly aggressive" acts by Chinese ships.
At one point, the Pentagon said, the US vessel Impeccable sprayed one ship with water from fire hoses to force it away. The Chinese came within eight metres of the American ship, the Pentagon said, calling the manoeuvre "an apparent co-ordinated effort to harass the US ocean surveillance ship while it was conducting routine operations in international waters".
The vessels were in the South China Sea, about 75 miles south of Hainan Island. No one at the Chinese foreign ministry was available for comment tonight.
Earlier, the official newspaper China Daily carried remarks from the navy's deputy chief of staff, who said the force's growth did not pose a threat to others.
In an interview at the weekend, Major General Zhang Deshun told the newspaper: "Even when the navy has its aircraft carriers one day, our national defence strategy will remain purely defensive.
"The Chinese navy pursues peace and safeguards the security of the country."
The Pentagon spoke of its ship being surrounded. "The Chinese vessels surrounded USNS Impeccable, two of them closing to within 50ft [16 metres], waving Chinese flags and telling Impeccable to leave the area," a statement said.
"Because the vessels' intentions were not known, Impeccable sprayed its fire hoses at one of the vessels in order to protect itself," it said. "The Chinese crew members disrobed to their underwear and continued closing to within 25ft."
The Chinese navy has drawn increasing scrutiny since it joined the international fleet battling Somalian pirates in the Gulf of Aden – its first overseas mission since the founding of the People's Republic in 1949.
Zhang added: "Some foreign media saw it as an opportunity to hype so-called 'China threat'. In fact, China is doing exactly what other countries are doing sending ships there: to protect [their] national interests."
He said China's plans to build aircraft carriers, which have also drawn attention, were "strategically very common" for a big country with a long coastline.