- The Washington Times - Monday, May 4, 2020

About a week after Chinese officials claimed they expelled an American Navy destroyer from disputed waters in the South China Sea, the U.S. Department of Defense is continuing to track “very aggressive” behavior from naval and air units of the People’s Liberation Army.

During an online discussion sponsored by the Washington, D.C.-based Brookings Institution, Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper on Monday said Beijing has not been consistent in how it follows international maritime norms.

“They’re claiming territory or space that simply is not theirs,” Mr. Esper said.

Chinese officials claim the USS Barry — an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer — was expelled while operating near the Paracel Islands, an archipelago claimed by both China and Vietnam. However, U.S. Navy said the Barry left only after conducting a successful freedom of navigation operation in the region, according to the U.S. Naval Institute.

“We have conducted a number of Taiwan Straits transits. We are continuing to watch closely what the Chinese are doing,” Mr. Esper said.

Most of the encounters between the two navies have been professional, even as the Chinese military has gotten “pushier” of late. In some cases, their provocative actions are probably more the result of limited abilities, Mr. Esper said.

“In some cases, we would consider it ‘unprofessional but not intentional.’ It may be bad seamanship or bad piloting,” he said. “We do see cases where they try to perform a maneuver that’s outside their skill.”

Mr. Esper regularly speaks with his counterpart in China and said it’s critical for the two countries to remain in close contact, even with these territorial disputes.

“The world remains a dangerous place. We’re very cautious, and we remain vigilant,” he said.

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