Beijing’s challenge to US warship in South China Sea ‘deliberate and calculated’, observers say


By the normal rules for ensuring navigational safety ‘there’s no way we would see ships getting so close’, analyst says

The incident happened when a Chinese Luyang-class destroyer sailed within 41 metres (135 feet) of the USS Decatur in an operation described by Washington as “unsafe and unprofessional” and by Beijing as a necessary defence of its territory.

“Going by the normal rules of the road for ensuring navigational safety, there’s no way we would see ships getting so close like this,” said Collin Koh, a research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies with Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.

“Such a move by the PLA naval warship was nothing short of a calculated, deliberate act.”

Koh said that China had been steadily building up its naval capabilities and was keen to show its power in the region.

The near collision, close to Gaven Reef, happened despite China and the US signing a code of conduct for unplanned encounters at sea in 2014 to prevent such incidents. Contact was only averted when the Decatur changed course and sailed away from the Chinese ship.

Carl Thayer, emeritus professor at the University of New South Wales in Australia, said the Chinese move was clearly intended to demonstrate Beijing’s resolve to safeguard the territory it claims.

“This is the most aggressive and dangerous action China has taken since Trump came into office,” he said, referring to US President Donald Trump. “All freedom of navigation patrols are shadowed by Chinese vessels and aircraft, and told to leave the area, but none has come this close or moved this dangerously.

“China is signalling ‘we have sovereignty’ even though no one accepts that.”