China’s first aircraft carrier, renovated from an old aircraft carrier Beijing had bought from Ukraine in 1998, docked at Dalian Port, in Liaoning province, yesterday.
WASHINGTON: China’s behaviour in a narrowly averted naval collision in the South China Sea was “unhelpful” and “irresponsible,” US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel said on Thursday, warning against incidents that could escalate US-Chinese tension.
“That action by the Chinese, cutting their ship 100 yards out in front of the (USS) Cowpens, was not a responsible action. It was unhelpful; it was irresponsible,” Hagel told reporters at the Pentagon.
China on Wednesday acknowledged an encounter in early December between a Chinese naval vessel and the US warship in the South China Sea.
China said its ship was conducting “normal patrols” when it encountered the US missile cruiser, and its official news agency accused the US of deliberate provocative behaviour. But US officials depicted the event differently.
They said the US ship was forced to take evasive action to avoid collision.
Asked about Hagel’s comments, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said: “For the US and Chinese militaries to maintain a healthy and stable relationship that is beneficial to both countries, both sides must do their best to meet each other half-way”.
The near collision came after Beijing’s declaration of an air defence identification zone further north, in the East China Sea, ratcheted up tension and drew criticism from Washington, Tokyo and Seoul. Experts have called the incident the most serious US-Chinese maritime encounter since 2009.
Hagel said that such “incendiary” incidents had the potential to cause a “miscalculation.” “We need to work towards putting in place some kind of a mechanism in Asia-Pacific and with China... to be able to defuse some of these issues as the occur,” he said.
General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters there had been no changes to rules of engagement given to forces in that region in order to prevent run-ins with China.
“What we do constantly though is we remain alert for changes in the environment,” Dempsey said. “There are times that are more sensitive than others and we’re in a heightened period of sensitivity. And you can count on our mariners and airmen to be aware of that.”
“This is about China’s naval capabilities but it has a definite political edge, too,” said Ross Babbage, a former Australian government strategic analyst and founder of the Kokoda Foundation think-tank in Canberra.
“China is demonstrating its major power status to the region by sending its carrier into the South China Sea... and the US is signalling in return: ‘Remember we are still here and we are still the biggest player’.”
China’s official Xinhua news agency said the Cowpens was “warned” by the carrier task force, adding the US vessel was “intentionally” putting the Liaoning under surveillance.
The Chinese drills, described by its navy as “scientific research, tests and military drills”, end on January 3. Agencies