A Chinese observation ship shadowed the U.S. aircraft carrier John C. Stennis in the Western Pacific on Wednesday, the carrier’s commander said, as it joined warships from Japan and India for drills close to waters Beijing considers its backyard.
The show of U.S. naval power comes as Japan and the United States worry China is extending its influence into the western Pacific with submarines and surface vessels as it pushes territorial claims in the neighboring South China Sea, expanding and building on islands.
China has been angered by what it views as provocative U.S. military patrols close to the islands. The United States says the patrols are to protect freedom of navigation.
The Japanese government on Wednesday said a separate Chinese navy observation ship entered its territorial waters south of its southern Kyushu island.
China said it was acting within the law and following the principle of freedom of navigation.
“There is a Chinese vessel about seven to 10 miles away,” Captain Gregory C. Huffman, commander of the Stennis, told reporters aboard the carrier after it recovered its F-18 jet fighters taking part in the exercise.
The Chinese ship had followed the U.S. vessel from the South China Sea, he added.
Separately, an unidentified U.S. official played down the significance of the shadowing, saying the Stennis had been followed by Chinese vessels in the past and the action in itself was not provocative.
“We are getting used to operating in close proximity of Chinese vessels,” the official said, speaking on deep background.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said he was unaware of the situation.
China views access to the Pacific as vital as a supply line to the rest of the world’s oceans and for the projection of its naval power.
The Stennis joined nine other naval ships including a Japanese helicopter carrier and Indian frigates in seas off the Okinawan island chain.
Sub-hunting patrol planes launched from bases in Japan are also participating in the joint annual exercise, dubbed Malabar.
Copyright Ships & Ports Ltd. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit given to www.shipsandports.com.ng as the source.