China says US navy ship 'illegal'
A US navy mapping ship that the Pentagon says was
"harassed" by Chinese ships over the weekend, was
conducting illegal operations in the South China Sea,
China's foreign ministry has said.
In Beijing's first formal comment on the incident,
spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said the US claim was "totally
inaccurate and confuses right and wrong and is unacceptable
Speaking to reporters in Beijing, Ma said the USNS
Impeccable "broke international and Chinese laws in the
South China Sea without China's permission."
On Monday US defence officials said five Chinese ships
surrounded and harassed the unarmed navy vessel in
international waters on Sunday.
At one point they said a Chinese ship had come within 8
meters of the Impeccable strewing debris in its path.
The Impeccable's crew resorted to spraying one Chinese
vessel with water from fire hoses to force it away,
officials at the Pentagon said.
But despite the impact of the water, Chinese crew members
stripped to their underwear and continued closing in.
A statement from the US defence department said the ships
"shadowed and aggressively manoeuvred in dangerously close
proximity" to the navy ship in international waters 120km
south of China's Hainan Island.
The incident is the latest in a series of confrontations
between US surveillance craft and Chinese coastal defences
The US Embassy in Beijing said a protest had been lodged
with the Chinese foreign ministry as well as with the
Chinese Embassy in Washington.
It said the Impeccable had been conducting "routine
operations in the South China Sea in accordance with
customary international law."
"The actions of the Chinese vessels put both sides at risk
and are inconsistent with the obligation for ships at sea
to show due regard for the safety of our ships," the
"Our Navy will continue to operate in international waters
in accordance with customary international law and we
expect China to exercise due regard for the safety of our
The Impeccable is one of five US navy surveillance ships
designed to use sonar to compile information the navy can
use to steer its own submarines or track those of other
China views almost the entire South China Sea region as its
territory – a claim which has put it at odds with at least
five South-East Asian nations.
Based on its claim, Beijing has argued that any
intelligence gathering by foreign governments within its
exclusive economic zone is illegal.
The US and other nations however say that only exploitation
of economic resources such as undersea gas deposits is
Tensions last spiked between the Chinese and US militaries
in 2001 when a US spy plane and Chinese fighter jet
collided in international air space off Hainan.
The pilot of the Chinese jet was killed while the US plane
was forced to make an emergency landing at a Chinese air
The crew of the plane and the aircraft itself were only
returned to the US after several days when Washington
delivered a carefully-worded apology to Beijing over the