China calls for boost in military ties

By Yang Jingjie Source:Global Times Published: 2013-12-21 11:31:00

China on Friday called for joint efforts to promote the healthy development of Sino-US military ties in response to US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's accusation of "irresponsible" behavior in a narrowly averted naval collision in the South China Sea.

Hagel made the comment at a press conference at the Pentagon on Thursday, referring to an incident on December 5, in which the US side claimed the USS Cowpens had to take evasive action to avoid a collision with a Chinese vessel that had come dangerously close.

"That action by the Chinese, cutting their ship 100 yards (91.4 meters) out in front of the Cowpens, was not a responsible action. It was unhelpful; it was irresponsible," he said.

When asked to respond to Hagel's accusation, China's defense ministry on Friday told the Global Times that the channel for communication between the two militaries is smooth. "In order to promote the healthy development of ties between the two countries and the two militaries, both sides should make joint efforts and meet each other halfway," it said.

Similarly, China's foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying on Friday told a regular press briefing that both sides should work toward the same goal to maintain a healthy and stable military-to-military relationship that is beneficial to both countries.

According to US military officers, the Chinese vessel involved was an amphibious dock ship, part of a flotilla accompanying China's first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning.

In a statement released on Wednesday, China's defense ministry said the Chinese warship encountered the US vessel during a regular patrol mission in the South China Sea, and handled the situation strictly according to relevant operation specifications.

A source from the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy earlier this week told the Global Times that the standoff was caused by the US ship's close-distance surveillance of the Chinese flotilla in waters where the PLA Navy had imposed a "no-sail order" for its drills.

The source said the Chinese vessel had to stop the Cowpens from further entering the drill zone after it ignored warnings, which forced the US ship to take evasive action.

Chen Gang, a research fellow with East Asian Institute at the National University of Singapore, told the Global Times that Hagel's tough reaction was aimed at its allies such as Japan and a move to maintain the US' dominant role in the region.

The near-collision, the first reported for several years, will undermine mutual trust between the two militaries to a certain level, Chen said.

"The distrust between the two militaries can't be dispelled in the short term. Meanwhile, given China's growing toughness in foreign policy and the various disputes in the demarcation of territorial waters, contiguous zones and exclusive economic zones, such incidents may happen in the East China Sea or the South China Sea again in the foreseeable future," Chen said, but noted that the incident wouldn't endanger the overall Sino-US relationship.

At Thursday's press conference, Hagel also pointed to the need for clear protocols between the two militaries to avoid a potential clash in the Pacific.

"That's the kind of thing that's very incendiary, that could be a trigger or a spark that could set off some eventual miscalculation," he said.

The two sides needed to work "to have a mechanism to be able to defuse some of these issues as they occur," Hagel said, adding, "We're working on it."

Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the same press conference that US and Chinese military officers have been meeting to draft rules for when the two militaries encounter each other at sea, in the air or in cyberspace.

In fact, immediately after the narrowly averted collision, captains of the Cowpens and the Liaoning reportedly communicated via radio, after which the Chinese amphibious dock ship sailed away and the Cowpens left the PLA Navy's drill zone.

Yu Jinghao and agencies contributed to this story

Posted in: Military

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