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USS Decatur has ‘unsafe’ encounter with Chinese destroyer during South China Sea FONOP

02 October 2018
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USS Decatur, pictured here in 2016, sailed near the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea on 30 September.

A US Navy (USN) destroyer has had an “unsafe” encounter with a Chinese warship during a freedom-of-navigation operation (FONOP) conducted on 30 September near the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea (SCS).

A People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) Luyang-class destroyer approached USS Decatur (DDG 73), an Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer, at approximately 0830 h local time “in an unsafe and unprofessional manoeuvre in the vicinity of Gaven Reef", US Pacific Fleet Deputy Spokesperson Commander Nate Christensen told Jane’s in a written statement.

Cdr Christensen said that the Chinese vessel, which “conducted a series of increasingly aggressive manoeuvres accompanied by warnings for Decatur to depart the area”, approached “within 45 yards of Decatur’s bow”, after which the US ship “manoeuvred to prevent a collision”.

In a separate statement China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) accused the USN vessel of having “sailed into waters close to China’s Nansha [Spratly] Islands without permission from the Chinese government.

“In response, the Chinese navy identified and warned the ship to leave in accordance with [the] law”, said the MoFA without speaking of an “unsafe” encounter with the US destroyer.

The MoFA, which reiterated Beijing’s claim that it has “indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea islands and their adjacent waters”, also accused the United States of “choosing to ignore the shared will of regional countries” by conducting “one provocative operation after another” in the region.

“It [the US] has, under the pretext of ‘navigation and overflight freedom’, violated basic norms governing international relations, threatened China’s sovereignty and security, and disturbed regional peace and stability”, said the MoFA, reiterating China’s strong opposition to the FONOPs.

The latest development comes after US Air Force (USAF) B-52H Stratofortress bomber aircraft conducted flights on 23 and 25 September over parts of the SCS, also prompting sharp criticism from Beijing.

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