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Chinese Military Chiefs Accuse US Navy of Spying

Chinese naval officials say a U.S. naval ship that was involved in a standoff Sunday near China's southern coast was on a spying mission.

In an article carried Wednesday in the official China Daily newspaper, naval officials said it was clear the USNS Impeccable was not just a surveillance ship, but a spy ship.

Vice Admiral Jin Mao, the former vice-commander of China's navy told the newspaper that anyone with eyes could tell what the ship was up to.

Other naval officials noted that the Chinese navy was well within its rights to intercept the vessel. They also say the Impeccable's presence was a threat to Chinese vessels.

The U.S. government says Chinese vessels harassed the Impeccable Sunday while it was towing sonar equipment - that is designed to monitor submarines - in international waters.

The naval dispute comes as Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi is in Washington this week to meet with U.S. officials.

Yang is in Washington largely to lay the groundwork for a meeting between Chinese President Hu Jintao and President Barack Obama at next month's G20 summit.

State Department officials say the two sides are likely to discuss the incident when Yang meets with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton later Wednesday.

China rejects the United States claims that the Impeccable was in international waters. China says the U.S. ship was in China's so-called Exclusive Economic Zone without China's permission when the incident occurred.

On Tuesday, a top U.S. intelligence official said the naval dispute was the "most serious" between the United States and China since China detained a U.S. spy plane and its crew in 2001.

Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair said China seems to be taking a "more military, aggressive" stance.

The USNS Impeccable was about 120 kilometers off of China's Hainan island when the U.S. military says it was forced to make an emergency stop on Sunday.

U.S. diplomats say American naval ships will continue to operate in international waters. But they stopped short of commenting on U.S. surveillance activities in the South China Sea.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.