US Pacific Fleet spokesman Lt Cmdr Tim Gorman said the Chinese warship approached the USS Decatur in an "unsafe and unprofessional manoeuvre" on Sunday near Gaven Reefs in the South China Sea. The operation was conducted to "uphold the rights and freedoms of all states under global law". The US disregard of China's claims over the disputed waters, through which trillions of dollars-worth of trade passes annually, is being demonstrated amid unprecedented tensions between the world's two largest economies. The PRC destroyer conducted a series of increasingly aggressive maneuvers accompanied by warnings for DECATUR to depart the area.
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Collin Koh Swee Lean, research fellow at Singapore's S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, said the incident would have contravened the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea agreed to by China and the USA, among others, in 2014.
It confirmed a Chinese missile destroyer was immediately deployed to identify the American vessel and drive it away.
The operation also comes as military ties between the two countries have dived, with China also angered by U.S. sanctions on China's military for buying Russian arms and by United States support for self-ruled Taiwan, which Beijing claims as its own.
The US Navy pictures, obtained by gCaptain website and authenticated by a naval source to Stars and Stripes, depict the tense encounter of the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer with the Chinese destroyer Lanzhou (170) off the Spratly Islands last Sunday.
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"The United States has repeatedly sent military ships to South China Sea islands and its adjacent waters, threatened China's sovereignty and security, seriously damaged the relations between the two countries and militaries, and endangered regional peace and stability", Senior Col. Wu Qian, a spokesman for China's Ministry of National Defense, said in a statement.
The islands are mostly uninhabited but are close to busy shipping lanes - lanes which the US has an interest in protecting.
The move follows a further deterioration of relations between the USA and China. "Australia has consistently expressed concern over ongoing militarisation of the South China Sea and we continue to urge all claimants to refrain from unilateral actions that would increase tension in the region".
News of this plan comes on the heels of serious incidents in the East and South China Seas. It's one of the seven reefs and shoals that China's transformed into man-made island fortresses, seizures rejected by worldwide courts and disputed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Taiwan.