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