Sometime last Thursday, the US Navy said in a statement today, an American guided missile cruiser was on course to collide with a Chinese warship in the South China Sea. In international waters, the PLA ship attempted to stop the USS Cowpens, which was forced to take evasive maneuvers to avoid a collision. It was a dangerously tense moment, very nearly a serious international incident.Stars and Stripes has more:
Another U.S. military official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, told Stars and Stripes that the incident was ultimately resolved through ship-to-ship communications via radio between the Cowpens and a Chinese aircraft carrier in the vicinity. The official said that at some point there was direct communication between the Cowpens and the Chinese vessel that was harassing it, but the official was unaware of what was said during the exchange.
In a statement, the US Navy said: “This incident underscores the need to ensure the highest standards of professional seamanship, including communications between vessels, to mitigate the risk of an unintended incident or mishap.”The near-collision happened at the same time ASEAN representatives are visiting Tokyo, where in a joint statement the Southeast Asian and Japanese leaders called for “freedom of navigation, unimpeded commerce,” and restraint on the part of all countries in the region. Not far away, South Korea and Japan conducted a joint military exercise inside China’s ADIZ. Officials said the exercise had been planned months ago, before China announced its ADIZ, but the message was clear.Amid these signs of cooperation between China’s rivals however, there are divisions. Seoul and Tokyo disagree on how civilian airlines should behave inside China’s ADIZ, with South Korean airlines obeying China’s rules and Japan refusing to do so. South Korea’s parliament, meanwhile, adopted a resolution that condemns Japan’s increasing militarization. And the joint message released by ASEAN and Japanese leaders was somewhat weak, making no mention of the ADIZ, which reflects the influence of some of ASEAN’s China-leaning members.The close call between the USS Cowpens and the PLA warship is a sign that tension in east Asia is not going away, and that the risk of a dangerous incident is growing, not easing. And with countries throughout the region building up navies, coast guards, and maritime air forces, the area is only going to get more crowded.