China accuses US navy ship of breaking maritime laws


CHINA HAS accused the US of breaking international law after five Chinese ships jostled with a US navy survey submarine surveillance vessel in the South China Sea at the weekend.

The Pentagon accused the Chinese of harassing the USNS Impeccable in international waters off Hainan island on Sunday, but Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said the US ship was at fault. “The US claims are gravely in contravention of the facts and confuse black and white and they are totally unacceptable to China,” he said.

There have been dozens of fly-bys by Chinese Y-12 maritime surveillance aircraft in recent days.

The US defence department said that, on Sunday, the Chinese vessels “shadowed and aggressively manoeuvred in dangerously close proximity” to the Impeccable, an unarmed ocean surveillance vessel, with one ship coming within 7.6m (25ft) of it.

Washington also urged China to respect international maritime rules. “The incident . . . appears to be part of a wider and dangerous cat-and-mouse game between US and Chinese submarines and their hunters,” nuclear expert Hans Kristensen wrote on the Federation of American Scientists’ strategic security project blog.

The incident took place 100km (62 miles) south of a naval base on Hainan island which houses nuclear attack and ballistic missile submarines. “The US navy on its part is busy collecting data on the submarines and seafloor to improve its ability to detect the submarines in peacetime and more efficiently hunt them in case of war,” wrote Mr Kristensen.

Given the economic crisis facing the two countries, the incident is unlikely to have a major impact on relations, unlike in 2001 when ties were strained after a US spyplane collided with a Chinese fighter jet in international airspace off Hainan, killing the Chinese pilot and forcing the US aircraft to make an emergency landing at a Chinese airbase.