A United States guided missile warship was involved in a tense standoff recently in international waters with Chinese naval vessels, the Washington Free Beacon reported, citing Defense Department officials.
A Chinese warship reportedly tried to block the guided missile cruiser USS Cowpens dead in its tracks.
The Cowpens was in the area recently as part of the United States’ ongoing efforts to provide disaster relief to the typhoon-ravaged Philippines. The USS Cowpens entered the South China Sea area (near China’s aircraft carrier Liaoning) last week during a routine operation and was confronted by Chinese warships.
“On December 5th, while lawfully operating in international waters in the South China Sea, USS Cowpens and a PLA Navy vessel had an encounter that required maneuvering to avoid a collision,” a Navy official told the Beacon. "This incident underscores the need to ensure the highest standards of professional seamanship, including communications between vessels, to mitigate the risk of an unintended incident or mishap.”
The United States responded to the incident by issuing protests to China via diplomatic and military channels, the report adds, citing a State Department official.
The Cowpens was also running surveillance on the Liaoning, undoubtedly raising concerns among Chinese officials.
The standoff began when a Chinese warship warned the Cowpens to halt its course, an order the Cowpens ignored because it was operating at the time in international waters. A Chinese tank landing ship then positioned itself directly in front of the Cowpens, forcing the U.S. warship to take evasive and “dangerous” maneuvers.
U.S. officials claim the Cowpens was in the area as part of a standard operation and that it were merely exercising its “freedom of navigation,” as the Beacon’s Bill Gertz put it, near the Chinese carrier.
The standoff, which occurred about a week ago, would appear to be an escalation in an already tense relationship between the United States and China. Recall that China raised concerns recently when it declared a so-called “air defense identification zone” over the East China Sea. The United States responded to what many perceived as Chinese provocation by flying two B-52 bombers through the air zone.
At least one expert thinks China staged the incident with the Cowpens as part of a larger strategy to pressure the United States.
“They can afford to lose an LST [landing ship] as they have about 27 of them, but they are also usually armed with one or more twin 37 millimeter cannons, which at close range could heavily damage a lightly armored U.S. Navy destroyer,” Rick Fisher, a senior fellow at the International Assessment and Strategy Center, told the Beacon.
Fisher said the ongoing tension between China and the U.S. stems from one thing: China will not accept a U.S. presence in its geographical realm of influence.
“China has spent the last 20 years building up its Navy and now feels that it can use it to obtain its political objectives,” Fisher said.
China has grown increasingly bold and belligerent in both the South China and East China Seas, he said.
“In this early stage of using its newly acquired naval power, China is posturing and bullying, but China is also looking for a fight, a battle that will cow the Americans, the Japanese, and the Filipinos,” he said, adding that it would probably serve the U.S. and Japan well to build up their military presence in the Philippines.
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Featured image U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Paul Kelly.