Hagel says Chinese naval operations 'irresponsible'

Bill Gertz:
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Thursday criticized the Chinese navy for the near collision between the U.S. guided missile cruiser USS Cowpens and a Chinese naval vessel in the South China Sea.

“That action by the Chinese, cutting in front of their ship, 100 yards out in front of the Cowpens was not a responsible action,” Hagel told reporters at the Pentagon. “It was unhelpful; it was irresponsible.”

The comments were the first official reaction from the Pentagon to the Dec. 5 incident in the South China Sea. The Cowpens was shadowing China’s aircraft carrier the Liaoning at the time. It was hailed and ordered to stop by the Chinese navy.

The Cowpens continued on its path and a Chinese tank landing ship then sailed close to the front of the warship and stopped, forcing the Cowpens to abruptly change course.

The near collision was the most dangerous military incident between the United States and China since earlier harassment of Navy intelligence-gathering ships in the region several years ago.

Hagel said the United States and China need a mechanism to “be able to diffuse some of these issues as they occur because … what we don’t want is some miscalculation here to occur.”

The defense secretary said the incident involving the Cowpens could have been a “trigger or a spark that could set off some eventual miscalculation.”

“And so this has been a very unhelpful event. We’re working on it, and we’ll continue to work on it,” he said.

China’s defense ministry on Wednesday put out a statement that blamed the United States for the incident and sought to play down the encounter.

The ministry statement denied the incident involved a “standoff” and instead described it as an “encounter” that was handled via normal protocols.
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Instead of sending a warship to block the Cowpens, China dispatched an amphibious landing ship, he said.

“In case of a real standoff, as opposed to an ‘encounter,’ our navy would definitely send a destroyer to intercept the intruding ship and demand that it leave immediately,” Zheng said.
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This is another example of China trying to expand its defense envelop well beyond that provided by international recognized boundaries.  We will either have to reach some accord with them or we are going to have a lot of "encounters."

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