China Tests Obama; US Ship Threatened

China Tests Obama; US Ship Threatened

After two years of escalating maritime friction, China has sent a very clear message to the Obama administration: stay out of what we think are our waters or risk death.

The message was sent Sunday when five Chinese vessels harassed an unarmed US Navy hydrographic ship, USNS Impeccable, coming within 25 feet of the ship and forcing the US crew to man hoses to keep the other ship at bay.

A Chinese expert at the Naval War College, Nikolas K. Gvosdev, and a former senior naval official during the last administration said that China was testing the Obama administration and had deliberately done so after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit and just after the US and China resumed bilateral military discussions.

“With typical brazen audacity, they did this just a few days after resumption of talks with us,” said the former Bush administration official. “This is beyond the pale, even for them.”

The Chinese actions were a clear signal to the United States from the senior political leadership of China, said the former naval official: “These guys do not freelance. They are not given letters of marque and told to act as they will on the high seas. This had to be approved at political levels well above the PLA leadership.”

A Pentagon statement said that the vessels “shadowed and aggressively maneuvered in dangerously close proximity to USNS Impeccable, in an apparent coordinated effort to harass the U.S. ocean surveillance ship while it was conducting routine operations in international waters.”

News reports said the Chinese ships included a Navy intelligence collection ship, a Bureau of Maritime Fisheries Patrol vessel, a State Oceanographic Administration patrol vessel, and two small Chinese-flagged trawlers. These ships threatened the US Navy ship and told it to leave the area. The incident occurred 75 miles south of Hainan Island. China claims an economic exclusion zone of 200 miles.

As one of the ships continued to close while the Impeccable’s crew sprayed them with hoses, “the Chinese crew members disrobed to their underwear and continued closing to within 25 feet.” As anyone who’s been to sea knows, 25 feet between ships of any size is extremely dangerous. One wrong move, one errant wave and men could have been knocked overboard and crushed.

After the Impeccable crew radioed the Chinese ships that it was leaving the area and asked for a safe path to navigate, two of the Chinese ships stopped dead ahead. The ship was forced to an emergency stop. The Chinese had dropped pieces of wood in the water directly in Impeccable’s path. The former senior naval official said the Iranians have done the same thing to harass US vessels.

The US has delivered diplomatic protests about the incident to the Chinese here and in China and is publicizing this and at least two other incidents earlier in the week involving aggressive actions by Chinese vessels. The former Bush administration naval official said the US must continue to send in hydrographic ships to maintain the right to transit international waters and should keep warships close enough to respond to similar threats.

The last serious test of an American administration by China was April 2001, when the Chinese forced down a P-3 surveillance plane, just a few months after George Bush took office.

The Naval War College expert said the US must monitor future naval incidents closely to see if particular commanders and ships are involved. Gvosdev also noted the Chinese Navy has a new leader, who authorized Chinese ships to take the unprecedented step of moving to the Gulf of Aden to help deter piracy there. The last time a Chinese fleet sailed to that area it was led by the eunuch Zheng He in the early 15th century.

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The new Chinese commander that I had in mind is Rear Admiral Du Jingchen–who is currently commanding the Chinese vessels on patrol in the Gulf of Aden.

He became the chief of staff of the South Sea Fleet in August 2007 after serving as assistant chief of staff at PLAN (People’s Liberation Army-Navy) headquarters in Beijing.

China has announced it will beef up its fleet with an eye to protecting its trade routes, which means a greater presence in the Indian Ocean, to start.

It will also be interesting to see whether any of the ships that were involved in this incident take part in the Aman exercises hosted by Pakistan–in which the U.S. Navy is also scheduled to take part.

Could part of this saber-rattling be to take attention away from Tibet and the 50th anniversary of the Dalai Lama’s exile to India?

Interesting theory, ReiterN. This is after all only the latest in a series of incidents over the past week. PACOM issued a press release that noted, in part:

“The incident took place in international waters in the South China Sea, about 75 miles south of Hainan Island. It was preceded by days of increasingly aggressive conduct by Chinese vessels:

* On March 4, a Chinese Bureau of Fisheries Patrol vessel used a
high-intensity spotlight to illuminate the entire length of the ocean surveillance ship USNS Victorious several times, including its bridge crew.
USNS Victorious was conducting lawful military operations in the Yellow Sea, about 125 nautical miles from China’s coast. The Chinese ship then crossed Victorious’ bow at a range of about 1400 yards in darkness without notice or warning. The following day, a Chinese Y-12 maritime surveillance aircraft conducted 12 fly-bys of Victorious at an altitude of about 400 feet and a range of 500 yards.

* On March 5, without notice or warning, a Chinese frigate
approached USNS Impeccable and proceeded to cross its bow at a range of approximately 100 yards. This was followed less than two hours later by a Chinese Y-12 aircraft conducting 11 fly-bys of Impeccable at an altitude of 600 feet and a range from 100–300 feet. The frigate then crossed Impeccable’s bow yet again, this time at a range of approximately 400–500 yards without rendering courtesy or notice of her intentions.

* On March 7, a PRC intelligence collection ship (AGI) challenged
USNS Impeccable over bridge-to-bridge radio, calling her operations illegal and directing Impeccable to leave the area or “suffer the consequences.”

The Chinese ships involved in the March 8 incident included a Chinese Navy intelligence collection ship (AGI), a Bureau of Maritime Fisheries Patrol Vessel, a State Oceanographic Administration patrol vessel, and two small Chinese-flagged trawlers.”

Gvosdev may be assuming too much with regard to whether central leaders directed the naval challenge. There is deep history of
institutions within the Chinese govt not communicating. In the 2007 incident when the USS Kitty Hawk was refused a port visit in Hong Kong, it now appears the PLA and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had divergent agendas. Also, I think its important to note that the PLAN did not challenge the ship with naval vessels of an offensive nature. In spite of the dangerous maneuvering, this seems to suggest they were trying to send a forceful yet measured response.

Finally, the small paragraph about the EP-3 is a bit misleading. The PLAAF certainly intended to buzz the US aircraft and intimidate it, but there wasn’t an intent to have the plane “forced down.” The collision between the US and Chinese aircraft was ultimately accidental, and resulted in the Chinese pilot dying.

Perhaps we’re reading too much into this.

This is just S.O.P. for the Chinese. The Koreans tend to do the same.

The only goal is to test the administration.
To find out if it is run by hawks or by doves.

Would the former CoS of the South Sea Fleet have been very different?

This incident could be an attempt to divert the Chinese public’s attention from the economic difficulties to the “threat” from “foreign devils”, who continually “conspire” to detract from China’s “greatness”?

By the way, does anyone in OPNAV remember the PUEBLO incident and how that came about?

I understand that this was a “test” of the new administration and I share the view that China’s senior political leadership was certainly in the loop on this.

But what benefits does China derive from this “test”? Is this akin to an insecure child acting out for attention? Or is it a diversionary tactic as Aurora posited? What type of response were they hoping to elicit?Clearly there is an emerging pattern here of testing new administrations. “China tests Obama”—but to what end?

It shows how emboldened they are becoming by the U.S. beginning to pull out of Iraq where we are less of a threat to “their” oil. They have been subverting our interests there for a long time, the ASAT incident was another way of testing our resolve. China is nowhere near as benign long-term as many make them out to be. Financial warfare is still war.

Taking into consideration the above mentioned facts in regards to these acts of agression and recklessness, it appears to me that both nations have a lot to be desired in the way they go about projecting their influence through their respective military arms. I hope that common sense will prevail, but alas I will not hold my breath. The thing about sabre-rattling is usually someome ends up with a nasty cut or worse.

Hm. Considering whose coastline these incidents happen close to, it looks to me that it has been the Chinese who have been the ones being prodded and tested. Continually. And by a country with something of a habit of militarily attacking other countries.

it’s a navy vessel further outside its own waters than the chinese ships, that is what you call hostile!

pot calling kettle black situation.

and to say a us navy ship is unarmed is just ridiculously blatant lies.

send a civil ship next time america, you dodgey pricks.

There is a solution here, send the ocenographic ships in with destroyer escorts or better yet, a Los Angeles class attack submarine and let the Chinese know it is there. They are being more aggressive because they think the US will back down. The Bush administration didn’t back down and now the Obama administration will have to show it has the resolve to counter such actions. The Chinese and North Koreans are both trying to push the new US administration. I hope he lets the US Navy leadership handle the situation without interference. They would send in the unarmed ships with escorts.

Has anyone challenged the validity of the Chinese Economic Exclusion Zone in the world court? Other than sending ships through it, are we doing anything positive on the diplomatic front? Not that diplomacy typically succeeds without military support, they are rather synergistic.

The Chinese are wolves in sheeps clothing. Next time send a F/A-18 to buzz thier ships at 1,000 ft doing 600 knots. As for you CW, the Navy WILL send a ship armed to the teeth next time. I bet ur Chi-com’s blink first.

Do not talk much. They are not testing us but they are threatening us. Shoot all the ships down for “warning” to their admin. If they do harass us again, destroy all their navy ships in the south [china] sea.

Just the same as when Iraq challenged USA in regard to PSC’s.

We do what all politicians do, run away!

Let’s see what our response will be when the Chinese are monitoring submarines 75nm off of our coasts.

My fellow Americans: Don’t think for a MOMENT that the Chinese are our “friends”. They are not, they never were and they never will be. They are our RIVALS, and they are looking after their self-interests, as are we. I have often wondered what the Chinese wanted in regards to Tibet. The answer is LITHIUM … the needed resource of the upcoming are of Electric vehicles. Interesting article in Wikipedia, see
“Production & World Supply”:


International waters are just that, it is only natural that China wants to determine what type of character our leadership now has. Expect a lot more of this type of activity until such time as we react, one way or the other.

Eat me you chinese dick head, I anticipate a day when your Navy will try that with a USS rather then USNS ship. The skipper of the warship will be just a tad bit more willing to confront your Navy and you’ll find that your frigette gets to see how well they act as submarines while they head to the bottom.


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