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Hagel: China Acted 'Irresponsibly' in Stand-Off With US Naval Vessel

FILE - U.S fighter jets on standby at the upper deck of a USS George Washington aircraft carrier while the USS Cowpens passes by, in the South China Sea, 170 nautical miles from Manila, September 2010.
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says China acted in an "unhelpful" and "irresponsible" manner during a stand-off with a U.S. naval vessel in the South China Sea this month.

Hagel made the comment during a news conference at the Pentagon Thursday. He referred to an incident December 5 in which a U.S. missile cruiser nearly collided with a Chinese warship.

U.S. officials have said the USS Cowpens had to take evasive action to avoid a collision when the Chinese ship cut in front of it. Hagel said the incident illustrates the need for clear protocols between the Chinese and American militaries to avoid a potential clash in the region.

The United States says its ship was operating in international waters when it was forced to take evasive action to avoid hitting the Chinese vessel, which was traveling with China's new aircraft carrier, the Liaoning.

China says the encounter was handled "in accordance with strict protocol."

At the Pentagon news conference, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Martin Dempsey, said American and Chinese military officers have been meeting to draft rules for when the two militaries encounter each other.

The Liaoning is China's only aircraft carrier. It was on its first long-term training mission since being commissioned earlier this year, when the confrontation with the U.S. ship occurred.