Friday, December 13, 2013
Confrontation Between U.S. And Chinese Navy In International Waters
American and Chinese navy ships apparently played out a game of 'chicken' in international waters.
The USS Cowpens, a Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser had a confrontation with elements of the Chinese navy patrolling in the South China Sea near Beijing’s new aircraft carrier Liaoning when the Cowpens was returning from helping out with relief efforts in the Philippines. Bill Gertz reports:
“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 said.
“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.”
A State Department official said the U.S. government issued protests to China in both Washington and Beijing in both diplomatic and military channels.
The Cowpens was conducting surveillance of the Liaoning at the time. The carrier had recently sailed from the port of Qingdao on the northern Chinese coast into the South China Sea.
According to the officials, the run-in began after a Chinese navy vessel sent a hailing warning and ordered the Cowpens to stop. The cruiser continued on its course and refused the order because it was operating in international waters.
Then a Chinese tank landing ship sailed in front of the Cowpens and stopped, forcing the Cowpens to abruptly change course in what the officials said was a dangerous maneuver.
What to make of this? I see it as China taking new steps in asserting itself in the region, as part and parcel of China's proclaimed air defense identification zone (ADIZ) in the East China Sea,which neither the U.S. or Japan recognize, although both countries have advised domestic airliners to comply.
China's Liaoning, like any other aircraft carrier is pretty heavily guarded, and it may be that some Chinese navy captain simply decided to push the envelope a bit in protecting his carrier.
But what's more likely to my mind is that the Chinese realize that President Obama's 'Asian pivot' is as hollow as his Middle East strategy, and they're making use of it. Remember, the Chinese play Go, not chess, and the idea is to control territory and access rather than aggressively taking pieces off the board.
And it also appears to be the start of a pattern:
The Cowpens incident is the most recent example of Chinese naval aggressiveness toward U.S. ships.
The U.S. intelligence-gathering ship, USNS Impeccable, came under Chinese naval harassment from a China Maritime Surveillance ship, part of Beijing’s quasi-military maritime patrol craft, in June.
During that incident, the Chinese ship warned the Navy ship it was operating illegally despite sailing in international waters. The Chinese demanded that the ship first obtain permission before sailing in the area that was more than 100 miles from China’s coast.
The U.S. military has been stepping up surveillance of China’s naval forces, including the growing submarine fleet, as part of the U.S. policy of rebalancing forces to the Pacific.
Put another way, the Pacific is America's western redoubt, as General Douglas MacArthur presciently said many years ago. Breech it or drive us out and control of the entire Pacific region is up for grabs, with Australia, Hawaii and the U.S. West Coast left vulnerable.
This story isn't news today, what with America's domestic discords. But it could very well end up as headlines in the future if this continues.