Chinese destroyer tests U.S. nerves in Taiwan Strait
SEOUL — In an apparent intimidation tactic, a Chinese destroyer twice crossed the bow of a U.S. Navy destroyer at high speed as the latter transited the Taiwan Strait, provoking an angry response.
The U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said in a statement that the Chinese ship “executed maneuvers in an unsafe manner in the vicinity of Chung-Hoon,” an American destroyer, on Saturday.
The incident was filmed from the bridge wing of a Canadian frigate accompanying the U.S. vessel and shared on YouTube by Canadian outlet Global News.
The footage from the Canadian ship HMCS Montreal shows the speeding Chinese destroyer overtaking the USS Chung-Hoon and crossing her bow at about 150 yards, forcing the American ship to drastically reduce speed to avoid a collision.
The Chinese destroyer then repeated the maneuver, zig-zagging across the Chung-Hoon’s bow from starboard.
It was no accident. The Chinese ship had warned the U.S. ship by radio before conducting its maneuvers.
U.S. Indo-Pacific Command called the Chinese actions “unsafe” and stressed that they took place in the Taiwan Strait, where “high seas freedoms of navigation and overflight apply.”
The Montreal’s commander, Capt. Paul Mountford, speaking to Global News aboard his ship, added: “I am hoping that is an isolated incident that won’t happen again for us, because we have international law on our side. This is international waters.”
The Eastern Theater Command of China’s People’s Liberation Army shot back in a statement carried by the Reuters news agency late on Saturday.
“The countries concerned deliberately create incidents in the Taiwan Strait region, deliberately provoke risks, maliciously undermine regional peace and stability, and send the wrong signal to ‘Taiwan independence’ forces,” it said.
While China does not harass international merchant shipping in the Taiwan Strait, it is frequently angered when warships of the U.S. and its allies transit the strait.
The strait, an international shipping lane that separates southern China from Taiwan, is 100 miles wide at its narrowest point.
The high-seas incident contributed to a tense ambiance at the weekend’s Shangri La Dialogue, a high-profile, ministerial-level regional defense conference in Singapore run by the International Institute of Strategic Studies, a think tank.
According to press reports from Singapore, Chinese Defense Minister Gen. Li Shangfu said Beijing is not worried by “innocent passage” but “must prevent attempts … to exercise hegemony of navigation.”
“The best way is for the countries, especially the naval vessels and fighter jets of countries, not to do closing actions around other countries’ territories,” said Gen. Li, who wore a Chinese general’s uniform in Singapore. “What’s the point of going there? In China, we always say, ‘Mind your own business.’”
But Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who also attended the forum, remained firm in his statements, as reported by the Pentagon.
After criticizing “risky intercepts” by Chinese aircraft, Mr. Austin said the U.S. would support regional allies “as they defend themselves against coercion and bullying.”
“To be clear: we do not seek conflict or confrontation,” he said. “But we will not flinch in the face of bullying or coercion.”
Though Gen. Li and Mr. Austin shook hands at a dinner in Singapore, they did not hold a meeting. Gen. Li had previously turned down Mr. Austin’s request for a bilateral sitdown.
Beijing-Washington tensions have been high ever since the U.S. shot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon that had traversed its territory in February.
The waters south of China are the theater for a tense war of nerves between the forces of China and of the U.S. and its allies.
The weekend’s seaborne tensions mirror a similar incident in nearby skies on May 26, when a Chinese jet flew just 400 feet across the nose of a U.S. RC-135 surveillance plane.
That high-risk maneuver took place over the South China Sea, where China has constructed a series of fortified air-sea bases on disputed reefs and islands that are also claimed by Southeast Asian nations.
In a challenge to the Chinese base-building program, U.S. Navy warships conduct “freedom of navigation” operations close to those bases while U.S. aircraft probe the clouds, piquing Chinese ire.
While neither ships nor vessels from the two powers have exchanged fire, some pundits fear an accidental clash leading to a kinetic spiral of escalation.