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Chinese Maritime Provocation

In November of 2007, a Chinese Song Class submarine surfaced uncomfortably close to the U.S.S. Kitty Hawk during an American naval exercise, engendering a degree of disquiet that an anonymous NATO official likened to "as big a shock as the Russians launching Sputnik." Predictably, a fair amount of Western analysis and explanation accompanied the incident, and Washington expressed hope that the Chinese would abstain from similar behavior in the future.

Unfortunately, and some might add predictably, the Chinese have resumed their maritime chicanery. From a piece posted on the March 9th on-line edition of the Wall Street Journal:

The Pentagon charged Monday that five Chinese ships shadowed and maneuvered dangerously close to a U.S. Navy vessel in an apparent attempt to harass the American crew.

Defense officials in the Obama administration said the incident Sunday followed several days of "increasingly aggressive" acts by Chinese ships in the region. The incident took place in international waters in the South China Sea, about 75 miles south of Hainan Island.

....."On March 8, 2009, five Chinese vessels shadowed and aggressively maneuvered in dangerously close proximity to USNS Impeccable, in an apparent coordinated effort to harass the U.S. ocean surveillance ship while it was conducting routine operations in international waters," the Pentagon statement said.

The Chinese ships included a Chinese Navy intelligence collection ship, a Bureau of Maritime Fisheries Patrol Vessel, a State Oceanographic Administration patrol vessel, and two small Chinese-flagged trawlers, officials said.

Couched in the perpetually disarming tongue of the modern diplomat, the behavior of the five Chinese vessels involved would be characterized as unhelpful to Sino-American relations. However, though admittedly well shy of an act of war, this latest episode reflects a pattern of maritime provocation on the part of the Chinese and should be referred to as such forcefully and repeatedly until Beijing gets the message. Otherwise, the risk of a misunderstanding, and the potential for shooting thereafter, continues to rise unchecked.

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