The voice on the radio in the middle of the South China Sea follows a familiar script for Captain Eric Anduze, who helms the USS Blue Ridge. It’s China on the phone.
“They’ll contact us and they’ll go -- ‘U.S. government vessel, this is Chinese Navy vessel’ number whatever -- ‘we will maintain five miles from you and escort you as you make your transit,”’ Anduze said, describing the English-speaking voice from a rival Chinese warship.
The U.S. response is short: “Chinese vessel, this is government vessel 1 9, copy, out.” From there on, silence, as the vessels of the world’s rival powers steam onward together.
The ship-to-ship interactions are a regular potential flash point for the world’s two biggest militaries in contested waters. In September, a Chinese destroyer sailed within a football field’s distance of the USS Decatur in what the U.S. said was an “unsafe and unprofessional” maneuver. That hasn’t deterred future sailings -- the U.S. sent two guided-missile destroyers within 12 nautical miles of disputed islands earlier this month.
Based in Japan, the Blue Ridge is a frequent traveler through the South China Sea, which Beijing considers its waters against an international community increasingly concerned by its encroachment. The area is home to key shipping lanes and fisheries that have sparked dispute between China and its neighbors.
China has built up and mans artificial islands with buildings, communications towers, ports and runways to cement its claims in what many international observers say are military provocations. The U.S. says it travels the waters as if the expansive claims don’t exist, running through shipping lanes as the Blue Ridge does, or on so-called “freedom of navigation” patrols near the disputed islands. Those latter sailings are viewed by China as aggravating. (end of excerpt)
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