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Tension in South China Sea? Not Among Rival Sailors

FILE - Guided missile destroyer USS Lassen arrives in Shanghai, China, for a scheduled port visit in 2008.

Despite the tension between the United States and China over the South China Sea, sailors from both sides patrolling the waters have shown themselves to be professionals just doing their jobs.

The USS Lassen, which patrolled the South China Sea last month, came within 11 kilometers of an artificial island the Chinese are building. Commander Robert Francis, the Lassen's skipper, said a Chinese destroyer shadowed his ship, warned that it was in Chinese waters and demanded repeatedly to know what the Americans wanted.

The commander said he never felt threatened, telling reporters Friday that U.S. sailors often call their Chinese counterparts for a friendly chat.

"Hey, what are you guys doing this Saturday?" Francis recounted in one conversation. "We got pizza and wings. What are you guys eating? ... We're planning for Halloween as well."

Francis said the Chinese sailors spoke in English about their homes and families and wished the Americans a pleasant voyage with hopes to meet again as they sailed off.

Francis called it just another day in the South China Sea.

China claims most of the South China Sea and is building artificial islands there. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam have competing claims.