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China confirms near collision

BEIJING – China on Wednesday confirmed an incident between a Chinese naval vessel and a US warship in the South China Sea, after Washington said a US guided missile cruiser had avoided a collision with a Chinese warship maneuvering nearby.

Experts have said the near-miss between the USS Cowpens and a Chinese warship operating near China’s only aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, was the most significant US-China maritime incident in the disputed South China Sea since 2009.

The USS Cowpens was forced to maneuver to avoid a collision with the Chinese ship that had crossed directly in front of it and halted, according to naval officers and defense officials in the US.

Following initial reports Sunday about the incident in the South China Sea on December 5, Chinese state media said Monday that the US warship had “posed a threat.”

Meanwhile, foreign ministry officials refused to comment directly and referred questions to the defense ministry. It responded Wednesday, saying the Chinese vessel was carrying out a routine patrol before it met the US ship.

China’s Defense Ministry said the Chinese naval vessel was conducting “normal patrols” when the two vessels “met.”

“During the encounter, the Chinese naval vessel properly handled it in accordance with strict protocol,” the ministry said on its website (www.mod.gov.cn). “The two Defense departments were kept informed of the relevant situation through normal working channels and carried out effective communication.”

But China’s official news agency Xinhua, in an English language commentary, accused the US ship of deliberately provocative behavior.

“On December 5, US missile cruiser Cowpens, despite warnings from China’s aircraft carrier task group, broke into the Chinese navy’s drilling waters in the South China Sea, and almost collided with a Chinese warship nearby,” it said.

“Even before the navy training, Chinese maritime authorities have posted a navigation notice on their website, and the US warship, which should have had knowledge of what the Chinese were doing there, intentionally carried on with its surveillance of China’s Liaoning aircraft carrier and triggered the confrontation.” (Reuters and AFP)