WASHINGTON – Chinese Navy officers reacted with annoyance today when it emerged that the United States had sent a destroyer to back up a surveillance vessel in the South China Sea after it was harassed by People’s Liberation Army sailors.
The decision by President Obama to send an armed escort for U.S. surveillance ships in the area follows the aggressive and co-ordinated manoeuvres of five Chinese boats on Sunday. The vessels harassed and nearly collided with the unarmed USNS Impecccable.
One unidentified officer quoted in the China Daily newspaper said that the decision was disproportionate. While China’s Foreign Ministry has so far kept tight-lipped on the latest development, the decision to run such a comment so swiftly in the state-run English-language newspaper was a signal of Beijing’s concerns.
One naval source said the PLA had taken note of the latest U.S. move and was watching developments closely.
Another described the deployment of the USS Chung-Hoon, armed with torpedoes and missiles, as a signal of the Pentagon’s intention to “keep on pressing” China in the South China Sea.
He added: “The timing and the extent have gone beyond what you could call proportionate.”
Top Chinese officers accused the unarmed U.S. Navy ship that it disturbed last Sunday of being on a spying mission. They said they had made repeated representations to the United States to stop sailing so close to Chinese waters and within its exclusive economic zone.
The U.S. keeps a close eye on China’s arsenal, including its fleet of submarines in the area. Washington says the confrontation occurred in international waters, but Beijing claims nearly all the South China Sea as its own, putting it in conflict with five other nations that have claims over different parts of the waters.