US Navy collisions pose growing threat to Chinese maritime activities, experts warn

Concerns grow after the second deadly incident involving a US warship in three months

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 22 August, 2017, 10:31pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 22 August, 2017, 11:33pm

After the Pentagon ordered a full-scale investigation into the latest in a string of accidents involving US warships, Chinese analysts have warned that China should be alert to the potential risk to its own naval and commercial fleets.

“The US Navy has been flexing its muscles all around the world, and has even intruded into our waters in the South China Sea,” Beijing-based naval expert Li Jie said.

“This could pose a danger to maritime encounters between our two countries’ navies that not even the existing code on encounters at sea could resolve.”

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He was referring to the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea, an agreement signed in 2014 that seeks to reduce the chances of its signatories becoming involved in incidents at sea.

Chinese analysts have been closely watching recent events to see if they reflect a wider problem within the US Navy that could affect the Chinese Navy’s calculations when dealing with it in busy waters.

US Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson ordered a temporary halt to US Navy operations around the world after the USS John S McCain destroyer collided with the Alnic MC oil tanker off the coast of Singapore on Monday.

Ten US sailors were missing and five were injured in the incident. On Tuesday, the US said navy divers had retrieved some human remains from within the badly damaged vessel.

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Admiral William F Moran, vice chief of US naval operations, said that the ship’s crew’s lack of preparedness was partly to blame for the collision, which was the second involving a US Navy vessel in three months and the fourth in Asian waters this year.

Xu Guangyu, a retired Chinese major general, said that with the exact reasons for the collisions still unknown, Chinese ships should be careful when navigating through busy trade routes.

“The location of the collision was a very busy maritime trade channel in the South China Sea. Given that we have seen frequent accidents involving US vessels, Chinese ships must exercise caution,” he said.

Li suggested that the collisions might be the result of a wider issue within the US Navy – that it has stretched itself too far.

The latest collision happened in one of the world’s most congested waterways, and one in which Chinese and US warships have frequently encountered one another amid an atmosphere of intensified rivalry.

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Speaking earlier on Tuesday, Hua Chunying, spokeswoman for China’s foreign ministry, said the latest incident was further cause for concern with regard to the safety of maritime vessels in the region.

“... we are concerned that these incidents may pose a potential security threat to navigation in the South China Sea and related waters, and hope that [they] can be addressed,” she said.

State-run China Daily said in an editorial on Tuesday that “the increased activity by US warships in Asia-Pacific since Washington initiated its rebalancing in the region is making them a growing risk to commercial shipping.”

Meanwhile, Global Times said in an unsigned commentary that the “US Navy has behaved arrogantly in the Asia-Pacific region. It lacks respect for huge merchant ships and fails to take evasive action in time, thus resulting in serious accidents”.

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The USS McCain had been heading to Singapore on a routine port visit after returning from a “freedom of navigation” operation last week, during which it reportedly sailed within 12 miles of Mischief Reef, one of China’s man-made islands in the South China Sea.

Admiral Moran said he had not ruled out a cyberattack or other outside interference as being to blame for the latest collision, but said he did not want to prejudge the inquiry.

Additional reporting by Kinling Lo