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China, US Disagree on US Navy Ship's Mission - 2002-09-27

China and the United States are disagreeing over whether a U.S. Navy vessel broke international law by conducting research in waters off the Chinese coast. Beijing has lodged a protest with the United States over what it says is a violation of its territory.

At issue is whether the Navy vessel, the Bowditch violated maritime law earlier this month by sailing within China's 200 nautical mile economic zone in the Yellow Sea. China maintains it did and has raised the matter with the United States.

Washington acknowledges the oceanographic vessel was within the zone, but maintains it was fully within its rights to be there.

State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher says the ship was conducting what he calls survey operations permitted under international law - not surveillance or spy activities. "U.S. ships have the right under international law to conduct military surveys in China's exclusive economic zone," he said.

Such operations, he says, pose no harm to China's economic interests or the environment. And he says there is absolutely no truth that the ship collided with another vessel, as has been reported.

A Pentagon spokesman says a Chinese government fishing vessel shadowed the Navy ship for days, at times coming as close as a few hundred meters while telling its crew to leave the area. But the Pentagon says the Bowditch went on to complete its mission and is now docked in Japan.

The incident drew reminders of last year's collision between a Chinese fighter jet and a U.S. Navy reconnaissance plane forced to make an emergency landing on Hainan Island. 24 American crewmembers were detained for 11 days. The United States maintained China was to blame for the incident which severely strained Sino-U.S. relations - but issued an expression of regret to Beijing over the death of the Chinese pilot reported killed.