The situation in the contested South China Sea flared up again on Saturday, June 3, in an incident that both the U.S. and Canadian navies are calling “unprofessional” and risky when a Chinese warship repeatedly maneuvered close to a U.S. destroyed in the Taiwan Strait. A reporter who was aboard the Canadian vessel observing the joint exercise filmed the close approach while reporting the Chinese vessels remained at a greater distance from the Canadian vessel.
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The U.S. Indo-Pacific Command (USINDOPACOM) said in a statement that the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Chung-Hoon and Canadian Navy Halifax-class frigate HMCS Montreal were conducting a routine south-to-north Taiwan Strait transit, when a Chinese navy ship, LY 132, executed maneuvers in an unsafe manner in the vicinity of the U.S destroyer. The Chinese vessel overtook the Chung-Hoon on its port side and crossed its bow at 150 yards. The Chinese vessel crossed the path of the Chung-Hoon a second time although in that instance it is reported it maintained a distance of approximately 2,000 yards.
The maneuvers forced Chung-Hoon to slow to 10 knots to avoid a collision. USINDOPACOM termed the Chinese vessel’s actions as a violation of the maritime “Rules of the Road” of safe passage in international waters.
A Global News reporter who was traveling aboard the Montreal witnessed the near collision. They later reported that the Chinese vessel had appeared to pick up “considerable speed” before cutting across the bow of the Chung-Hoon. Captain Paul Mountford of the HMCS Montreal later told reporter Mackenzie Gray that when they observed the Chinese vessel alter its course, they notified the Americans and told them it appeared they would have to change course to avoid a collision. Captain Mountford said the Chinese actions were “not professional,” and that the American vessel had radioed the Chinese asking them to maintain a safe distance.
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“Chung-Hoon and Montreal’s bilateral transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the commitment of the U.S. and our allies and partners to a free and open Indo-Pacific. Cooperation like this represents the centerpiece of our approach to a secure and prosperous region where aircraft and ships of all nations may fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows,” said USINDOPACOM in an earlier statement.
The Chung-Hoon and the Montreal had been sailing together in the South China Sea for nearly a week before entering the Taiwan Strait in the rare joint Canada-U.S. mission. The action by the Chinese Navy is the second close encounter between U.S. and Chinese military assets in less than 10 days. Last week, the U.S. reported that a Chinese fighter jet performed an “unnecessarily aggressive maneuver” in an intercept of a U.S. reconnaissance aircraft.
The pilot of a Chinese J-16 fighter flew directly in front of — and within 400 feet of the nose of the RC-135 — forcing the U.S. aircraft to fly through its wake turbulence. The intercept occurred while the reconnaissance plane was operating in international air space over the South China Sea on May 26.
China has in recent months come out strongly to protest and condemn U.S. military activities in the South China Sea that are according to the Americans designed to show support for Taiwan. Beijing in response has vowed to stay on high alert, stating that it “is ready to respond to all threats and provocations at any time, and will resolutely safeguard its national sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
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Despite Beijing’s protests, the U.S. Navy continues to dispatch regular freedom of navigation operations through the Taiwan Strait with the 2004-built Chung-Hoon as one of the regular U.S. warships in the South China Sea waters. In January 2023, the vessel made the U.S. Navy’s first Taiwan Strait transit of the year, also drawing protests from the Chinese. In 2019, the U.S. Navy sent the Chung-Hoon and another U.S. destroyer on a trip close to the disputed Spratly Islands also raising Chinese concerns. In 2006, when relations between Washington and Beijing were more cordial, Chung-Hoon became the first U.S. Navy vessel ever to conduct a comms and passing exercise with a Chinese PLA Navy warship, according to Xinhua.