Tense International Encounter Unfolds in South China Sea

The guided-missile destroyer USS Decatur returns to its homeport Naval Base San Diego after completing a seven-month deployment Nov. 14 2016

The guided-missile destroyer USS Decatur returns to its homeport Naval Base San Diego after completing a seven-month deployment Nov. 14 2016

A Chinese destroyer came within yards of the U.S. Navy ship Sunday, compelling it to switch direction in what American officials called an "unsafe and unprofessional" clash.

"At approximately 8:30 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".

The Chinese "destroyer approached within 45 yards (meters) of Decatur's bow, after which Decatur maneuvered to prevent a collision".

The Chinese defense ministry said Tuesday it opposes the USA warship's entry into the waters "around China's islands and reefs". Such operations need to be within 12 nautical miles of an island or territory to constitute a challenge under global law.

The Chinese ship then conducted a series of "increasingly aggressive maneuvers, and warned the Decatur to depart the area", he added. In 2013, the USS Cowpens was forced to take evasive action in order to avoid a collision with a Chinese warship less than 460 meters (500 yards) off its bow while operating in global waters in the South China Sea.

In addition, last week the B-52s also participated in a US-Japan joint military exercise in the East China Sea, where Tokyo and Beijing both claim sovereignty over the group of uninhabited Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands.

China's defense ministry said Tuesday that it dispatched a naval ship to warn the USA vessel to leave, calling the operation a threat to its sovereignty, according to Agence France-Presse.

The Chinese manoeuvre nearly caused a collision, United States official said.

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The presence of American ships near the Chinese-claimed archipelago off the coast of the Philippines, Malaysia and southern Vietnam is "seriously threatening China's sovereignty and security" and "seriously undermining the relations between the two countries and the two militaries", Wu added.

Beijing claims all of the remote island chain amid its vast territorial assertions throughout the South China Sea.

This photo taken on December 24, 2016 shows the Liaoning, China's only aircraft carrier, sailing during military drills in the Pacific.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry said it strongly urged the U.S.to stop its "provocative" actions.

The incident occurred amid growing tensions over tariffs and sanctions - and as the Decatur conducted a "freedom of navigation operation" in the disputed, strategic waterway, a Defense Department official told NBC News.

Tuesday's statement, unusual in clearly announcing the run-in with the Chinese vessel, reaffirmed that the US would not halt its operations in the area.

China has reportedly cancelled a security meeting later this month with US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis. "As we have for decades, our forces will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere global law allows".

The Associated Press reported Monday that Defence Secretary James Mattis had dropped plans to visit China later this month, citing unidentified US defence officials.

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