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December 13, 2013

US, Chinese Warships Avert Near-Collision in South China Sea

by VOA News

U.S. defense officials say a U.S. guided missile cruiser steaming in the South China Sea was forced to take evasive action last week to avoid colliding with a Chinese warship.

Officials say the near-miss occurred December 5, as the USS Cowpens maneuvered in international waters in the vicinity of China's only aircraft carrier, the Liaoning. There has been no comment on the incident from Beijing.

In a statement Friday, the headquarters of the U.S. Pacific Fleet said another Chinese warship then maneuvered near the Cowpens. A U.S. military official quoted in the military newspaper Stars and Stripes said the Chinese ship attempted to get the Cowpens to stop, before a collision was averted through radio communications.

The official said no shots were fired.

The incident occurred at a time of heightened maritime tensions involving China and a host of other Pacific nations over competing claims to large swaths of the East and South China seas.

China recently deployed the Liaoning for maneuvers in the region, as part of a push to assert its claim to a tiny set of East China Sea islands controlled by Japan and claimed by Beijing. China also is seeking to lay claim to a nearby reef disputed with South Korea.

Beijing unilaterally declared a new air defense zone over the Japanese-controlled islands last month, and ordered all foreign aircraft entering the zone to first submit a flight plan.

The United States, South Korea and Japan have all rejected the order, and all three countries have sent warplanes into the zone in recent weeks in defiance of the Chinese demand.

China has not interfered with the flights, but scrambled fighter jets into the area, heightening concerns about possible aerial miscalculations.

Friday's U.S. statement said it is not uncommon for navies to operate in close proximity, making it "paramount that all navies follow international standards for maritime rules."