Dramatic photos have emerged of a confrontation we reported on Monday between the USS Decatur and the Chinese destroyer Luyang, which came within 45 yards of each other in the South China Sea. The photos of the two warships, obtained by gCaptain, reveal the “unsafe and unprofessional maneuver” that almost resulted in a collision “in the vicinity” of the Graven Reef in the Spratley Islands on Sunday morning at 8:30 a.m..
According to a Navy spokesman, during the incident, the Chinese warship “approached within 45 yards of Decatur’s bow, after which Decatur maneuvered to prevent a collision.”
As was reported over the weekend, the USS Decatur on Sunday conducted the U.S. Navy’s latest freedom of navigation operation in the South China Sea, coming within 12 nautical miles of the Gaven and Johnson Reefs claimed by China. –gCaptain
On Tuesday, China accused the US of violating its “indisputable sovereignty” over the Spratley islands, saying in a statement “We strongly urge the U.S. side to immediately correct its mistake and stop such provocative actions to avoid undermining China-U.S. relations and regional peace and stability.”
It is unclear how the photos were obtained, however they were deemed to be legitimate according to Stars and Stripes, citing a US Navy official.
The encounter, which comes at a time of strained relations between the world’s two largest economies driven largely by Trump’s aggressive trade policy, was characterized as “unsafe and unprofessional” by Navy officials.
“At approximately 0830 local time on September 30, a PRC LUYANG destroyer approached USS DECATUR in an unsafe and unprofessional maneuver in the vicinity of Gaven Reef in the South China Sea,” said Capt. Charlie Brown, a U.S. Pacific Fleet Spokesman.
Gaven Reef is located in the Spratly Islands chain in the South China Sea where China claims seven man-made islands as its own.
The close encounter with the Chinese warship occurred as the American destroyer was carrying out a freedom of navigation operation (FONOPs) in the Spratlys, the U.S. said.
The U.S. Navy routinely undertakes FONOP missions worldwide to challenge excessive territorial claims of international shipping lanes.
USS Decatur had sailed within 12 nautical miles of Gaven and Johnson Reefs in the Spratly Islands when it was approached by the Chinese destroyer.
During the brief encounter, the Chinese destroyer’s aggressive maneuvers were accompanied by demands that the Decatur leave the area.
The Chinese Navy “destroyer conducted a series of increasingly aggressive maneuvers accompanied by warnings for DECATUR to depart the area,” Brown added.
“The PRC destroyer approached within 45 yards of DECATUR’s bow, after which DECATUR maneuvered to prevent a collision,” said Brown.
A U.S. defense official characterized the close encounter as having been of short duration.
Chinese vessels have approached U.S. Navy ships during previous FONOPs in the South China Sea, but Sunday’s encounter appears to the be the closest one yet.
“U.S. Navy ships and aircraft operate throughout the Indo-Pacific routinely, including in the South China Sea,” said Brown. “As we have for decades, our forces will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows.”
Earlier Monday, reports surfaced that China had called off a security conference with US officials. The cancellation was later confirmed by the US. This latest sign of a deteriorating relationship came after the US Air Force flew a B-52 bomber on a mission through the East China Sea while two other B-52 flights were carried out through the South China Sea.
While the notion of a shooting war between the US and China may seem remote to casual observers, some market observers have noted the time honored progression of economic tensions like trade wars and currency wars eventually leading to a full-on hot war.