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Pacific News Minute: U.S. Destroyer Narrowly Avoids Collision with Chinese Warship in S. China Sea

U.S. Navy

More details are emerging about the near collision between U.S. and Chinese destroyers last Sunday morning in the South China Sea. Images released by the U.S. Navy appear to show the Chinese warship pulling in front of USS Decatur, which veered off to avoid a crash.

Still images show just how scary the encounter was. Likely taken by an American drone or by the Decatur’s Sea Hawk helicopter, they show a Chinese destroyer maneuvering just 45 yards in front of Decatur. 

That might sound safe, but experts say it is way too close for comfort, and probably the closest call between the two militaries in many years.

Initially identified only as a Luyung Class destroyer, the Chinese ship has been named as the Lanzhou. She intercepted Decatur as the American destroyer sailed near Gaven Reef, which is part of the Spratley Archipelago, west of the Philippines in the South China Sea. It’s one of the seven reefs and shoals that China’s transformed into man-made island fortresses, seizures rejected by international courts and disputed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Taiwan. 

The U.S. Pacific Fleet described the incident as “unsafe, unprofessional and aggressive.” While not disputing details, China said Decatur had “violated China’s indisputable sovereignty and seriously undermined relations between the two countries and the two militaries.”

Credit U.S. Navy

The incident came just a few days after China abruptly canceled a meeting between Secretary of Defense James Mattis and his Chinese counterpart. China also canceled a scheduled port call by the USS Wasp Amphibious Ready Group to Hong Kong.

Wasp and her escorts were reported on maneuvers in the South China Sea.

Over 36 years with National Public Radio, Neal Conan worked as a correspondent based in New York, Washington, and London; covered wars in the Middle East and Northern Ireland; Olympic Games in Lake Placid and Sarajevo; and a presidential impeachment. He served, at various times, as editor, producer, and executive producer of All Things Considered and may be best known as the long-time host of Talk of the Nation. Now a macadamia nut farmer on Hawaiʻi Island, his "Pacific News Minute" can be heard on HPR Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.
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