WASHINGTON – The U.S. Navy has dispatched a guided-missile destroyer to the South China Sea, after Chinese ships allegedly harassed an American ship operating there last weekend, a Pentagon official said Thursday.
The USS Chung-Hoon, armed with torpedoes and missiles, is stationed in protection of the USNS Impeccable. On Sunday, five Chinese vessels surrounded the naval ocean surveillance ship, which is unarmed. The Chinese ships approached to within 25 feet and blocked the Impeccable’s path with pieces of wood, the official said.
The Hawaii-based destroyer, with a crew of about 275, was in the region for a regularly scheduled deployment and was diverted to the escort mission, the official said. “It’s not like we specially deployed another ship,” he said.
The arrival of the destroyer underscores the Pentagon’s determination to continue with the surveillance mission in spite of China’s claims that it represents an illegal military activity – aimed, according to Chinese experts, at monitoring submarine activity south of Hainan Island.
It also signaled heightened U.S.-China tensions on a day when President Barack Obama met with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi at the White House. The two leaders called for strengthening cooperation to build “a positive and constructive” relationship, according to a White House statement.
Obama stressed “the importance of raising the level and frequency of the U.S.-China military-to-military dialogue in order to avoid future incidents,” the White House said.
Pentagon officials did not say whether such escorts would now be routine for surveillance ships in the area, but they suggested it would continue for the duration of the Impeccable’s current operation.