Naval chase around Spratlys heightens tensions between China, U.S
WASHINGTON--Chinese vessels repeatedly chased a U.S. naval combat ship on patrol near the disputed Spratly Islands, raising concerns over a possible contingency in the South China Sea, U.S. officials said.
Developments in the area are being closely watched by Japan as it strengthens cooperation between its Self-Defense Forces and the militaries of the Philippines and Vietnam, which both claim territorial rights over several isle chains, known collectively as the Spratly Islands.
The U.S. Navy said the littoral combat ship USS Fort Worth had returned by May 13 from a weeklong patrol in the South China Sea that took it near the Spratlys. The littoral combat ship (LCS) is a new, relatively small high-speed warship that can operate near shorelines.
It is believed that the Fort Worth was deployed to send a warning signal to China for having fueled tensions by engaging in land reclamation work at several rock reefs in the area.
The U.S. officials said the Fort Worth encountered multiple Chinese vessels several times during its patrol. Chinese ships chased the LCS in an apparent attempt to drive it out of the waters.
According to Stars and Stripes, the de facto official newspaper of the U.S. military, the Fort Worth was chased by a Chinese missile frigate ship.
Several times, the U.S. vessel took the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea (CUES), signed by 21 Pacific nations, to avoid a contingency, the officials said.
Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, defended China’s actions.
“China is entitled to monitor the situation in relevant waters and airspace so as to guard against any harm to China’s national security and maritime and aerial accidents,” she said at a regular news conference on May 14.
“We will keep the situation in relevant waters and airspace under surveillance, and protect China’s national security from being jeopardized and maritime and aerial accidents from happening,” Hua added.
At a news conference a day earlier, Hua urged the U.S. side to “avoid taking any risky and provocative actions.”
The U.S. Navy plans to continue its surveillance missions in the area. The deployment of the LCS in the Asia-Pacific region is part of U.S. President Barack Obama’s pivot to Asia strategy.
An LCS has been stationed in Singapore since 2013. It is the first time that a U.S. warship has been permanently stationed in the South China Sea since the Vietnam War.
The U.S. Navy plans to deploy three more LCS to the region by 2020.