A US navy vessel violated international and Chinese laws as it conducted unauthorized activities in China's exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the South China Sea on Sunday, the Foreign Ministry said yesterday.
March 9, 2009: The Pentagon says five Chinese ships, including a naval vessel, harassed USNS Impeccable in international waters off Hainan. China says the US ship was carrying out an illegal survey. [China Daily]
"China has lodged a protest to the United States as the USNS Impeccable conducted the activities ... without China's permission," ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu told a regular news briefing.
"We demand that the United States immediately stop such activities and take effective measures to prevent similar acts from recurring," he said.
The Pentagon said on Monday that five Chinese ships, including a naval vessel, "harassed" the US ship in international waters 120 km south of the southernmost province of Hainan.
The Chinese vessels "shadowed and aggressively manoeuvred in dangerously close proximity" to the Impeccable, with one ship coming within 25 feet (7.6 m), a US Defense Department statement said.
Ma said "the US claims are gravely in contravention of the facts and confuse black and white. They are totally unacceptable to China."
The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the Law on the Exclusive Economic Zone and the Continental Shelf of the People's Republic of China, and China's Regulations on the Management of Foreign-related Marine Scientific Research, have clear regulations on foreign vessels' activities in China's EEZs, Ma said.
The Chinese government always handles such activities strictly in accordance with these laws and regulations, he added.
The US has not ratified UNCLOS, objecting to a clause on seabed mineral exploration.
The Pentagon said the Impeccable had been conducting "routine operations in the South China Sea in accordance with customary international law".
Wang Hanling, an expert on marine law at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said China has reiterated that any intelligence data gathering by foreign vessels within its EEZ is illegal.
Pang Zhongying, a professor of international relations at Renmin University of China, said the US ship's activities may be a step by the Pentagon to "test the waters". He did not elaborate.
However, the dispute is unlikely to do lasting damage to ties between the two countries as they combat the global economic slump, a Chinese analyst in Beijing said.
"Overall, this won't have a major impact, because the United States and China need each other," said Shi Yinhong of Renmin University of China.
Pang agreed that the incident is unlikely to hamper Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi's current US trip and the newly resumed military exchanges between the two sides, suspended in October due to Washington's massive arms deal with Taiwan.
"But that (Sunday's incident) is a dangerous move. I hope the US side calms down, thinks over it and not let it destroy mutual trust which is key to both sides, especially during the financial crisis," he said.
Yang left for Washington on Monday to work on plans for a meeting between President Hu Jintao and US President Barack Obama in London next month.
Yang is scheduled to meet his US counterpart Hillary Clinton and US Secretary of Finance Timothy Geithner today. Sources with the Foreign Ministry said he might meet with Obama tomorrow.
Ma did not indicate if Yang's itinerary or agenda had changed because of the latest maritime dispute.
Xinhua, agencies and Yu Meng contributed to the story