TAIPEI/BEIJING (Reuters) : The U.S. Navy has released a video of what it called an “unsafe interaction” in the Taiwan Strait, in which a Chinese warship crossed in front of a U.S. destroyer in the sensitive waterway, a risky incident amid deteriorating Sino-U.S. ties.
The encounter comes as both countries have traded blame for not holding military talks – with disagreements between the two over everything from trade and Taiwan to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – and raises the spectre of future face-offs that could spiral out of control.
The U.S. military said the USS Chung-Hoon, a destroyer; and Canada’s HSMC Montreal, a frigate, were conducting a “routine” transit of the strait on Saturday when the Chinese ship cut in front of the U.S. vessel, coming within 150 yards (137 metres).
In the video, released by the U.S. Navy late Sunday, a Chinese warship can clearly be seen sailing across the path of the Chung-Hoon in calm waters. The Chung-Hoon does not change course.
A voice can be heard in English, apparently sending a radio message to the Chinese ship, warning against “attempts to limit freedom of navigation”, though the exact wording is unclear because of wind noise.
China has not commented directly on the U.S. criticism of the encounter, and its foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday.
On Saturday night, China’s military rebuked the United States and Canada for “deliberately provoking risk” with the rare joint sailing.
Chinese military commentator Song Zhongping told Reuters that this “point blank interception” was a demonstration of both the capabilities and “courage” of China’s navy.
“The more intensified the provocation from the United States, the stronger the countermeasures from China,” Song said.
It was the second such encounter in recent days.
On May 26, a Chinese fighter jet carried out an “unnecessarily aggressive” manoeuvre near a U.S. military plane over the South China Sea in international airspace, according to the United States.
“It seems to me that Beijing has instructed its forces to respond more assertively against what it believes are encroaching U.S. and allied forces,” said Derek Grossman, senior defence analyst at the RAND Corporation, a U.S. think tank.
“By doing so, China is only increasing the chances for miscalculation – namely ships or aircraft accidentally colliding – that could then spiral into armed conflict,” he added.
In 2001, a U.S. spy plane made an emergency landing on China’s Hainan island after a collision with a Chinese fighter jet, whose pilot died.
Taiwan’s defence ministry on Sunday called China’s actions with the U.S. and Canadian ships “provocation” and said it was the common responsibility of free and democratic countries to maintain peace and stability in the strait.
“Any actions to increase tension and danger will not contribute to regional security,” it said in a statement.
The ministry called on China to respect the right to freedom of navigation.
China views Taiwan as its own territory, a claim the government in Taipei strongly rejects.
Beijing has been stepping up military and political pressure to try to force Taiwan to accept its sovereignty, including staging regular manoeuvres near the island.