Bei­jing gets ‘more ag­gres­sive’ against U.S. ships

The Washington Times Weekly - - National Security - BY BILL GERTZ

Di­rec­tor of Na­tional In­tel­li­gence Den­nis C. Blair told a Se­nate hear­ing March 10 that China’s mil­i­tary is in­creas­ing ha­rass­ment of Navy sur­vey ships, ac­tiv­i­ties viewed by U.S. in­tel­li­gence as the most ag­gres­sive since 2001, when a Chi­nese jet flew into a U.S. EP3 sur­veil­lance plane and set off an in­ter­na­tional cri­sis.

Mr. Blair, a for­mer four-star com­man­der of U.S. forces in the Pa­cific, said a naval stand­off March 9 near Hainan Is­land is a trou­bling sign that China has adopted a more ag­gres­sive mil­i­tary pos­ture to­ward U.S. Navy sur­veil­lance ships and is the lat­est in a se­ries of in­ci­dents in in­ter­na­tional wa­ters.

“In the past sev­eral years, they have be­come more ag­gres­sive in as­sert­ing claims for the [200-mile Eco­nomic Ex­clu­sion Zone], which are ex­ces­sive un­der al­most any in­ter­na­tional code,” Mr. Blair told the Se­nate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee.

“And this lat­est in­ci­dent with fish­ing ves­sels and a PLA navy ves­sel in­volved is the most se­ri­ous that we’ve seen since 2001, the EP-3 in­ci­dent,” he said dur­ing a hear­ing on global threats.

A group of Chi­nese ves­sels fol­lowed and ha­rassed the sur­vey ship USNS Im­pec­ca­ble in the South China Sea on Mon­day, the Pen­tagon said.

U.S. diplo­matic protests were de­liv­ered to the Chi­nese For­eign Min­istry in Bei­jing and to the Chi­nese Em­bassy in Wash­ing­ton.

The March 9 en­counter was not an iso­lated in­ci­dent. On March 4, a Chi­nese pa­trol boat shined a high-pow­ered spot­light onto the USNS Vic­to­ri­ous, which was sail­ing in in­ter­na­tional wa­ters in the Yel­low Sea, about 125 miles from China’s coast, the Pen­tagon said.

Chi­nese navy mar­itime air­craft flew over the ship 12 times on March 5.

Also on March 5, a Chi­nese war­ship sailed within 100 yards of the Im­pec­ca­ble af­ter the air­craft buzzed the ship.

On March 7, a Chi­nese ship warned the Im­pec­ca­ble in a ra­dio com­mu­ni­ca­tion that its op­er­a­tions were il­le­gal and that it must leave the area or “suf­fer the con­se­quences,” a de­fense of­fi­cial said.

Pen­tagon Press Sec­re­tary Ge­off Mor­rell said de­fense of­fi­cials on March 9 asked Chi­nese Em­bassy of­fi­cials for an ex­pla­na­tion of provoca­tive state­ments that ap­peared in the Com­mu­nist Party news­pa­per from In­ner Mon­go­lia on Feb. 19 that stated, “If an Amer­i­can spy ship en­ters China’s sea area again, China will sink it.”

“We had not ob­served such state­ments prior to this ar­ti­cle,” he told The Wash­ing­ton Times. “The Chi­nese Em­bassy was un­fa­mil­iar with the ar­ti­cle. We are await­ing their for­mal re­sponse.”

Mr. Mor­rell said U.S. Navy sur­vey op­er­a­tions near China are “law­ful mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions un­der in­ter­na­tional law.”

The oceano­graphic ship was 70 miles south of Hainan Is­land, car­ry­ing out rou­tine ocean sur­vey op­er­a­tions in in­ter­na­tional wa­ters, when the Chi­nese ship and other gov­ern­ment ves­sels ap­proached it, Pen­tagon spokesman Bryan Whit­man said.

Mr. Whit­man said two of the Chi­nese ves­sels sailed within 50 feet of the Im­pec­ca­ble. Crew mem­bers aboard the Chi­nese ships dropped pieces of wood into the wa­ter in front of the Im­pec­ca­ble, and two ships moved di­rectly in front of the sur­vey ship, forc­ing it to stop.

Chi­nese Em­bassy spokesman Wang Baodong said his na­tion has ad­dressed the Pen­tagon claims. In Bei­jing, the For­eign Min­istry re­jected the Pen­tagon protests and said the sur­vey ship “broke in­ter­na­tional and Chi­nese laws in the South China Sea without China’s per­mis­sion.”

The ships in­cluded a Chi­nese in­tel­li­gence col­lec­tion ship, a Bureau of Mar­itime Fisheries pa­trol ves­sel, a State Oceano­graphic Ad­min­is­tra­tion pa­trol ves­sel and two small Chi­nese-flagged trawlers.

U.S. sur­vey ships con­duct un­der­wa­ter mon­i­tor­ing and are viewed by the Chi­nese as mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence-gath­er­ing ves­sels.

The Pen­tagon has tried for more than a decade to ne­go­ti­ate a mar­itime agree­ment with China to pre­vent such in­ci­dents at sea. China’s mil­i­tary has re­jected such an ac­cord.

For­eign Min­istry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said, “The U.S. claims are gravely in con­tra­ven­tion of the facts and con­fuse black and white, and they are to­tally un­ac­cept­able to China.”

“We de­mand that the United States put an im­me­di­ate stop to re­lated ac­tiv­i­ties and take ef­fec­tive mea­sures to pre­vent sim­i­lar acts from hap­pen­ing,” Mr. Ma told re­porters.

The spokesman did not pro­vide de­tails of what hap­pened or ex­plain how the U.S. ship vi­o­lated laws.

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