South China Sea: Chinese ship forces United States destroyer off course

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A Chinese destroyer came aggressively close to a U.S. Navy ship in the South China Sea, forcing it to maneuver to prevent a collision, the U.S. Pacific Fleet said Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2016, describing an encounter that could worsen tensions between the nations.

US Pacific Fleet spokesman Lt Cmdr Tim Gorman said the Chinese warship approached the USS Decatur in an "unsafe and unprofessional manoeuvre" on Sunday near Gaven Reefs 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'.

In a 2016 ruling, the tribunal of the Permanent Court of Arbitration - an intergovernmental organization that resolves global disputes including territorial and maritime boundaries - concluded Gaven Reefs did not possess significant land features and thus lacked an exclusive economic zone, as China had claimed.

"However, the U.S. has repeatedly sent warships to enter the waters near Chinese islands in the South China Sea, seriously threatening China's sovereignty and security, undermining Sino-U.S. military relations and seriously endangering regional peace and stability".

The confrontation occurred Sunday, as the guided-missile destroyer USS Decatur was conducting what the USA calls "freedom of navigation operations" (FONOPs) near a Chinese-held man-made islet in the Spratly chain of the strategic waterway.

"Guided-missile destroyer USS Decatur conducted a freedom of..."

Nevertheless, China expanded some land features in the reefs through sand dredging in 2014 and 2015 and then militarized the reefs with anti-aircraft and naval guns and radars.

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

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.

The Chinese defense ministry said the Decatur's actions - and previous US sail-bys - threaten its sovereignty and security.

Last week, the Pentagon said the B-52s had transited over the South China Sea as part of "regularly scheduled operations created to enhance our interoperability with our partners and allies in the region".

Amid the increasing tensions, US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis reportedly canceled his planned trip to China previously scheduled for October.

The showcase of US air power coincided with the integrated Defense of the Amphibious Task Force (DATF) drill held by the US Navy in the South China Sea on September 27. "As we have for decades, our forces will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere worldwide law allows".

Beijing and Washington are locked in a trade war in which they have imposed increasingly severe rounds of tariffs on each other's imports.

She said that such U.S. moves are against the common will of countries in the region and the basic worldwide norms, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported on Tuesday.