China confirms near miss with U.S. ship in South China Sea

BEIJING Wed Dec 18, 2013 10:37am EST

U.S fighter jets on standby at the upper deck of a USS George Washington aircraft carrier while a U.S. Cowpens ship pass during a media tour at the South China Sea, 170 nautical miles from Manila September 3, 2010. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco

U.S fighter jets on standby at the upper deck of a USS George Washington aircraft carrier while a U.S. Cowpens ship pass during a media tour at the South China Sea, 170 nautical miles from Manila September 3, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Romeo Ranoco

BEIJING (Reuters) - China on Wednesday confirmed an incident between a Chinese naval vessel and a U.S. warship in the South China Sea, after Washington said a U.S. 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 U.S.-China maritime incident in the disputed South China Sea since 2009.

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 (

"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 U.S. ship of deliberately provocative behavior.

"On December 5, U.S. 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 U.S. 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."

Washington said last week its ship was forced to take evasive action to avoid a collision.

The incident came at a time of heightened tension in the region following Beijing's declaration of an air Defense identification zone further north in the East China Sea, which prompted protests from Washington, Tokyo and Seoul.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday said maritime disputes between countries should be resolved peacefully through arbitration though the United States would speak out when a country, such as China, took unilateral action that raised the potential for conflict.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Kerry and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has been equally critical of the air Defense zone, should stop harping on the issue.

"The show the relevant parties have put on is enough. They should give it a rest. If they really care about this region's peace, they should ... stop fomenting trouble," she told a daily news briefing.

China's Defense Ministry said, however, there were "good opportunities" for developing Sino-U.S. military ties.

"Both sides are willing to strengthen communication, maintain close coordination and make efforts to maintain regional peace and stability," the ministry said.

The Liaoning aircraft carrier, which has yet to be fully armed and is being used as a training vessel, was flanked by escort ships, including two destroyers and two frigates, during its first deployment into the South China Sea.

Friction over the South China Sea has surged as China uses its growing naval might to assert a vast claim over the oil-and-gas-rich area, raising fears of a clash between it and other countries in the region, including the Philippines and Vietnam.

The United States had raised the incident at a "high level" with China, according to a State Department official quoted by the U.S. military's Stars and Stripes newspaper.

Beijing routinely objects to U.S. military surveillance operations within its exclusive economic zone, while Washington insists the United States and other nations have the right to conduct routine operations in international waters.

China deployed the Liaoning to the South China Sea just days after announcing its air Defense zone, which covers air space over a group of tiny uninhabited islands in the East China Sea that are administered by Japan but claimed by Beijing as well.

(Additional reporting by Hui Li and Ben Blanchard; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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Comments (31)
gregbrew56 wrote:
I think that should be a “Near-Hit”. A “Near-Miss” would be a collision. (English is so bizarre.)

Dec 17, 2013 11:35pm EST  --  Report as abuse
wpgger wrote:
Reuters conveniently neglected to report that the USS Cowpens was actually on a surveillance mission. It was collecting electronic signature of the Liaoning so that drone attacks can be prepared. Cowpens ignored warnings from Liaoning to leave, hence the near-miss incident. This was similar to 2009 when an US spy plane refused to leave and led to a collision with a Chinese jet fighter. The US has no business acting like a thug on someone’s doorstep.

Dec 18, 2013 2:28am EST  --  Report as abuse
leungsite wrote:
The interception was at an suicidal angle. If collided, the Chinese vessel was bound to capsize causing deaths, while USS Cowpens would only sustain minor bow damage. Can’t imagine someone would kill oneself just to provoke a conflict.

Dec 18, 2013 4:50am EST  --  Report as abuse
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