US, Chinese warships within metres of collision in South China Sea, leaked pictures show

Sunday’s near-miss between a Chinese destroyer and an American warship a sign of China’s ‘increasingly aggressive’ posture in the disputed area

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 03 October, 2018, 8:08pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 04 October, 2018, 3:48pm

Leaked aerial photos taken by the US Navy show how close a Chinese destroyer came to colliding with an American warship during a tense face-off in the disputed South China Sea.

The near-miss occurred on Sunday while the American ship was performing a “freedom of navigation” operation, sailing close to the China-claimed Gaven Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands.

According to the US Navy, the Chinese destroyer moved within 41 metres of the USS Decatur and the two nearly collided.

Four images of the incident were first posted by blog site gCaptain. Their authenticity was confirmed to CNN by three unnamed US officials.

The images show that the USS Decatur (DDG-73), an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, was forced to manoeuvre out of the way to avoid a collision with the Chinese warship, reportedly the Lanzhou (170) – a Type 052C Luyang-II class guided-missile destroyer.

America accuses Chinese warship of ‘unsafe’ manoeuvres after near collision with USS Decatur in South China Sea

Analysts said the incident shows China’s increasingly aggressive posture in the South China Sea amid an escalating confrontation with the US on both trade and security fronts.

Collin Koh, a research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies with Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, said China’s actions in the recent stand-off was a contravention of the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea, a non-binding agreement between China and the US reached in 2014 to prevent miscalculations and unanticipated escalations of incidents.

“Conducting dangerous, close proximity manoeuvres like this does go against the spirit of promoting safety in the interactions between operational forces at sea,” Koh said.

“In recent times other external powers have also ramped up their military presence in the South China Sea. So indeed this incident does underline China’s more aggressive posture against what it perceives as growing external interference in the [area].

“It’s also likely meant to signal a general warning to these powers, and of course for domestic public consumption,” he said.

China’s defence ministry spokesperson Wu Qian said on Tuesday that China respects and protects other countries’ right to freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea, but “resolutely opposes” other countries’ moves to challenge China’s sovereignty and security in the name of “freedom of navigation”.

Wu also said the incident had seriously undermined relations between the two countries, as well as their militaries, and posed serious threat to regional peace and security.

He added that China would take “all necessary measures” to safeguard its national sovereignty and security.