Hagel Calls Chinese Actions in Ship Encounter “Irresponsible”

By:  Warren Mass
Hagel Calls Chinese Actions in Ship Encounter “Irresponsible”

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel criticized the actions of the Chinese Navy in a close encounter with a U.S. vessel in the South China Sea.

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, in a statement to reporters at the Pentagon on December 19, criticized the actions of the Chinese Navy in a close encounter with a U.S. vessel in the South China Sea on December 5.

“That action by the Chinese, cutting their ship 100 yards out in front of the [USS] Cowpens [shown], was not a responsible action. It was unhelpful; it was irresponsible,” said Hagel.

Hagel seemed to switch to a vague bureaucratese when he continued: “What we don’t want is some miscalculation here to occur.” The Defense Secretary said that incidents like the one that occurred December 5 “could be a trigger or a spark that could set off some eventual miscalculation.”

VOA News on December 18 cited a statement issued by the Chinese defense ministry that confirmed a near-collision between a Chinese vessel and the USS Cowpens. According to the statement, the encounter was handled “in accordance with strict protocol” and that both sides have discussed the incident “through normal channels.”

An editorial in the Chinese state-run Xinhua news agency on December 18 stated that “fragile military links are the most vulnerable part of the two countries’ overall relationship.”

On the same day, China’s Defense Ministry seemed to downplay the incident by optimistically predicting that “China-U.S. military relations face favorable circumstances for good development.”

The United States said the Cowpens was operating in international waters when it was forced to take evasive action to avoid hitting the Chinese ship, which was traveling with China’s new (and only) aircraft carrier, the Liaoning. The Liaoning is a refurbished Ukrainian naval vessel.

During the same briefing at which Hegel spoke, Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the Liaoning, which was commissioned last year but hasn’t begun full flight operations, doesn’t pose a threat.

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Photo of USS Cowpens: U.S. Navy

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