A US guided missile cruiser operating in international waters in the South China Sea was forced to take evasive action last week to avoid a collision with a Chinese navy ship maneuvering nearby, the US Pacific Fleet said in a statement on Friday. The incident on December 5 involving the USS Cowpens came at a time of heightened tensions between the United States and China following Beijing's declaration of an Air Defence Identification Zone in the East China Sea.
The Pacific Fleet statement did not offer details about what led to the near-collision. But it did say the incident underscored the need for the "highest standards of professional seamanship, including communications between vessels, to mitigate the risk of an unintended incident or mishap." Beijing declared the air defence zone over the East China Sea late last month and demanded that aircraft flying through the area provide it with flight plans and other information.
The United States and its allies rejected the Chinese demand and have continued to fly military aircraft into the zone, which includes air space over a small group of islands claimed by China but currently administered by Tokyo. In the midst of the tensions over the air defence zone, China deployed its only aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, to the South China Sea for maneuvers. Beijing claims most of the South China Sea and is involved in territorial disputes in the region with several of its neighbours.