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China Confirms Near-Collision With US Ship


FILE - U.S fighter jets on standby at the upper deck of a USS George Washington aircraft carrier while the USS Cowpens passes by, in the South China Sea, 170 nautical miles from Manila.
China has confirmed an incident in which a U.S. missile cruiser nearly collided with a Chinese warship in the South China Sea earlier this month.

Beijing's defense ministry said Wednesday the Chinese vessel was conducting normal patrols on December 5 when it met the USS Cowpens.

The statement said the encounter was handled "in accordance with strict protocol." It noted both sides have discussed the incident "through normal channels."

The U.S. says its ship, while operating in international waters, was forced to take evasive action to avoid hitting the Chinese vessel, which was traveling with China's new aircraft carrier, the Liaoning.

Pentagon officials have downplayed reports that the incident raised tensions between the two militaries, saying the situation was handled professionally.

The Chinese defense ministry statement also dismissed any negative impact. It said relations between the Chinese and U.S. militaries "enjoy excellent prospects for development," and that both sides are willing to boost communication and cooperation.

However, an editorial in the state-run Xinhua news agency Wednesday took a more pessimistic view, saying that "fragile military links are the most vulnerable part of the two countries' overall relationship."

The U.S. has called for closer military cooperation to avoid mutual distrust with China, which has rapidly expanded its defense capabilities as its economy has grown in recent decades.

Even still, China is far behind the U.S. in military technology and Beijing's military budget remains only a fraction of Washington's.

The Liaoning is currently China's only aircraft carrier. It was on its first long-term training mission since being commissioned earlier this year when the confrontation with the U.S. ship occurred.

The incident also occurred amid tensions over China's recently declared Air Defense Identification Zone, which overlaps with territory also claimed by U.S. ally Japan.

The U.S., Japan, and South Korea all reject the zone, and have flown military planes through the area that ignored China's demand that foreign aircraft identify themselves and submit to its orders.
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