The U.S. Navy has released a video of what it called an “unsafe interaction” in the Taiwan Strait, in which a Chinese warship crossed in front of a U.S. destroyer in the sensitive waterway, a risky incident amid deteriorating Sino-U.S. ties.
The encounter comes as both countries trade blame for not holding military talks – with disagreements between the two over everything from trade and Taiwan to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – and raises the spectre of future face-offs that could spiral out of control.
The U.S. military said the USS Chung-Hoon, a destroyer, and Canada’s HSMC Montreal, a frigate, were conducting a “routine” transit of the strait on Saturday when the Chinese ship cut in front of the U.S. vessel, coming within 150 yards (137 metres).
In the video, released by the U.S. Navy late on Sunday, a Chinese warship can clearly be seen sailing across the path of the Chung-Hoon in calm waters. The Chung-Hoon does not change course.
A voice can be heard in English, apparently sending a radio message to the Chinese ship, warning against “attempts to limit freedom of navigation”, though the exact wording is unclear because of wind noise.
‘TROUBLE AND PROVOCATION’
“The measures taken by the Chinese military are completely reasonable, legitimate, and professional and safe,” said Wang Wenbin, a spokesperson at the Chinese foreign ministry.
“The U.S. had caused trouble and provocation first, while China dealt with it in accordance with the law and regulations afterwards,” Wang told a regular press conference on Monday when asked about the video released by the U.S. Navy.
The Chinese defence ministry did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment on Monday.
On Saturday night, China’s military rebuked the United States and Canada for “deliberately provoking risk” with the rare joint sailing.
“The more intensified the provocation from the United States, the stronger the countermeasures from China,” Song said.
It was the second such encounter in recent days.
On May 26, a Chinese fighter jet carried out an “unnecessarily aggressive” manoeuvre near a U.S. military plane over the South China Sea in international airspace, according to the United States.
“It seems to me that Beijing has instructed its forces to respond more assertively against what it believes are encroaching U.S. and allied forces,” said Derek Grossman, senior defence analyst at the RAND Corporation, a U.S. think tank.
“By doing so, China is only increasing the chances for miscalculation – namely ships or aircraft accidentally colliding – that could then spiral into armed conflict,” he added.
In 2001, a U.S. spy plane made an emergency landing on China’s Hainan island after a collision with a Chinese fighter jet, whose pilot died.
Taiwan’s defence ministry on Sunday called China’s actions with the U.S. and Canadian ships “provocation” and said it was the common responsibility of free and democratic countries to maintain peace and stability in the strait.
“Any actions to increase tension and danger will not contribute to regional security,” it said in a statement.
The ministry called on China to respect the right to freedom of navigation.
China views Taiwan as its own territory, a claim the government in Taipei strongly rejects.
Beijing has been stepping up military and political pressure to try to force Taiwan to accept its sovereignty, including staging regular manoeuvres near the island.