by Gavin Hanson
A Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) destroyer came too close for comfort Sunday while confronting a U.S. Navy destroyer in a brazen show of force in the South China Sea.
In a maneuver officials are calling “unsafe and unprofessional,” the Chinese ship, a Luyang-class guided missile destroyer, forced the USS Decatur to change course to avoid a collision, CNN reported.
The USS Decatur is one of many U.S. and allied ships that have been sailing the international waters of the South China Sea with increased frequency in order to challenge Beijing’s illegal claim to the shoaled waters of the “Nine Dash Line,” a sea-lane last controlled by the Chinese over a century ago. In recent months, tensions have risen sharply in the region as Chinese President Xi Jinping has escalated his regional land-grab to the status of military occupation.
What began in 2014 as an apparent bid to steal neighboring nations’ rich oil fields in the archipelagos between The Philippians and Vietnam, has nearly reached a breaking point. Soon after the Chinese set up exploratory oil rigs in the shallow seas, Chinese boats were seen dumping hundreds of tons of sand onto the fragile reefs and tropical atolls that dot the region. Xi, who told President Barack Obama in 2015 that he would not militarize the artificial islands, has now clearly broken his promise as Chinese military bases, runways, and even nuclear plants, in international, Vietnamese, and Philippine territory continue to spring up monthly on the man-made land.
It is now routine for British, Japanese, Australian, and U.S. ships to sail the area, disregarding incessant warnings and orders from Chinese military officials who call international presence in the region a violation of Chinese sovereignty. US nuclear-capable B-52 bombers have also increased sorties over China’s new sea fortresses from regularly scheduled single plane missions to threatening multi-plane demonstrations.
Just a few days before the near collision of two destroyers, and just after the US Air Force flew multiple strategic bombers overhead, Chinese warplanes conducted live-fire exercises between the rocky outcrops.
Australia has even announced that, in the face of a possible conflict, they will be re-opening a World War II-era naval base on New Guinea in order to more effectively project force in the South China Sea. Meanwhile, China has made major moves this year to bolster its carrier fleet.
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