A U.S. Navy ship in the South China Sea recently had to take evasive action to avoid colliding with a Chinese Navy ship that had tried to block its way, defense officials told ABC News today.
The guided missile cruiser USS Cowpens was transiting through international waters in the South China Sea on Dec. 5, close to where China's new aircraft carrier Liaoning was operating, defense officials said. The Cowpens was in the area to monitor the Liaoning, which is currently on its first training mission, officials said.
One of two small amphibious craft escorting the carrier approached the Cowpens, according to officials. At first the Chinese vessel blew its horn to order the Cowpens to leave the area, and then it tried to block the cruiser's path.
The Chinese ship got as close as several hundred yards from the cruiser - a distance close enough for the crew of the Cowpens to take action to avoid a collision, officials said.
It is unclear if the Chinese vessel attempted to cut off the cruiser more than one time.
The incident ended peacefully when the captain of the Cowpens radioed the captain of the Chinese aircraft carrier, defense officials said, noting that after that communication, the small Chinese vessel left the area.
The officials emphasized that it was the communications between the U.S. and Chinese vessels that diffused the incident.
"Whether it is a tactical at-sea encounter or strategic dialogue, sustained and reliable communication mitigates risk of mishaps, which is in the interest of both the U.S. and China," a defense official told ABC News on condition that he not be identified.
China recently heightened tensions with Japan and South Korea by establishing an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) in international airspace above the East China Sea.
The U.S. has called China's action destabilizing for the region and criticized it for not consulting its regional neighbors beforehand.