China says a U.S. naval vessel that had an encounter with Chinese ships in the South China Sea violated Chinese and international law. At the same time, a Chinese spokesman gave few details of the incident or what the next steps would be.
Both China and the United States have lodged protests about an incident, Sunday, in which the Pentagon says five Chinese vessels harassed a U.S. Navy research ship.
At a regular Chinese Foreign Ministry briefing in Beijing Tuesday, spokesman Ma Zhaoxu strongly rejected the American version of the story, which places the blame squarely on the Chinese.
Ma says the U.S. claims seriously disagree with the facts, confuse black with white and are completely unacceptable to China.
The Chinese spokesman said the American action violated the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and several Chinese laws.
He says his government has lodged "solemn representation" with the U.S. government because the ship Impeccable conducted activities in China's so-called Exclusive Economic Zone, in the South China Sea, without China's permission.
Ma also demanded that the American side immediately stop what he calls "its offending activities" and take effective measures to prevent similar incidents in the future.
Spokesman Ma gave no details of the incident and did not answer reporters' questions as to which specific laws had been broken.
The Chinese official also did not directly dispute Pentagon claims that the incident took place in international waters.
The Pentagon says the Impeccable is a research vessel that was conducting routine ocean surveillance in international waters, 120 kilometers south of China's Hainan Island.
A Pentagon spokesman says five Chinese ships surrounded the American ship, and maneuvered aggressively and dangerously.
A U.S. government statement, Tuesday, says military vessels do not require permission of the coastal state for activity within the Exclusive Economic Zone. The statement says there are Sino-American mechanisms in place to discuss maritime issues and that Washington is ready to hold such talks.
The naval confrontation comes just weeks after the United States and China resumed military talks, which had been suspended after an American announcement of arms sales to Taiwan. Beijing considers Taiwan a renegade province and has vowed to use military force, if the separately-governed island declares formal independence.
The latest tension also comes as Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi is in the United States, to discuss preparations for a meeting between President Barack Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao in London in April.