- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 17, 2013

A U.S. intelligence-gathering ship was harassed by a Chinese security ship last month in an incident that analysts say indicates Beijing is stepping up aggressive maritime encounters toward the U.S. Navy in the Asia-Pacific.

A Chinese website, Sinocism, posted photographs of what it described as a “fierce confrontation” between the USNS Impeccable, an electronic spy ship, and a China Maritime Surveillance ship.

The Web posting said the Chinese ship videotaped the encounter and posted it online as a way to “expose the activity.” Photos of the Impeccable indicate they were taken on June 21.

The Chinese ship also warned the Navy vessel it was operating “illegally” despite being in undisclosed international waters. The Chinese also said the ship was not a “noncombatant” ship.

“The American vessel USNS Impeccable is far from being a noncombatant,” the Chinese posting stated. “The Impeccable is one of five American surveillance ships equipped with passive and active low-frequency towed-array sonar, and it is effective at detecting submarines, directly serving the American naval fleet by doing so.”

The Navy is stepping up surveillance of China’s submarine force, which has expanded by more than 50 submarines in the past two decades.

The Sinocism posting stated that the U.S. ship was within 100 nautical miles of the Chinese coast and that China had not granted permission for it to operate in that region.

The Chinese photos appear to have been taken by a cellphone camera from a distance of about 10,000 yards. Analysts suggested the Chinese were engaged in long-distance countersurveillance, thus raising questions about Chinese claims of a “fierce” encounter.

A video of the confrontation posted on another website shows a Chinese security officer on ship speaking into a microphone and demanding that the U.S. ship must first get China’s permission to be in the area.

An unidentified U.S. official was then heard in the radio message as saying the Impeccable was operating legally in international waters. (The video can be viewed at cjdby.net/redianzhuizong/2013-07-04/military-4476.html.)

The last time the Impeccable was harassed by the Chinese was in March 2009 when five Chinese ships shadowed the surveillance vessel and sprayed it with water in what the Pentagon at the time said was a “dangerous” effort to force the ship out of its operating zone. Another spy ship, the Victorious, also was harassed several years ago.

A U.S. Pacific Command spokesman would not address the U.S.-China ship incident. Capt. Chris Sims, the spokesman, referred Inside the Ring to comments made last week by Adm. Samuel J. Locklear, head of U.S. Pacific Command.

Asked about an increase in Chinese naval activity around Guam and Hawaii, in apparent retaliation for U.S. naval spying on China, Adm. Locklear said the United States and China disagree on U.N. definitions of controlled waters.

“We believe, the U.S. position is that those activities are less constrained than what the Chinese believe,” the four-star admiral said in a meeting with reporters July 11.

Adm. Locklear said economic exclusion zones cover “most of the major sea lines of communication” that are vital for trade and shipping.

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