The five Chinese navy ships off the coast of Alaska may have actually entered into U.S. territorial waters, officials now believe. Both the presence of those ships near Alaska and their potential incursion would be firsts for the modern Chinese navy.
When news of the ships first broke, Pentagon officials declined to say how close the vessels were to the Alaskan coast, preferring only to confirm that the Chinese navy was operating in the Bering Sea, The Wall Street Journal reports. The fleet consisted of three combat ships, a supply vessel and an amphibious landing ship.
In fact, the exact distance from the coast was 12 miles. This means that the ships entered U.S. waters, though the Pentagon added that this did not constitute a violation of international law.
Viewed as a tit-for-tat exchange, the response from U.S. officials to the incident makes sense, some analysts believe. The Pentagon risks being viewed as hypocritical if it were to condemn China’s activity, since it freely exercises the right of moving in international and territorial waters near the South China Seas. Although China has strenuously objected, the Pentagon has held firm to a right of innocent passage, which means that the incident in Alaska appears to have been a test of the Pentagon’s commitment to that principle.
Despite the obvious timing of the passage, namely the ships coinciding with President Barack Obama’s three-day tour up north to speak about climate change and speeding up the acquisition of an icebreaker by two years, the Pentagon stated that the ships “transited expeditiously and continuously through the Aleutian Island chain in a manner consistent with international law.”
When the incident first occurred, no statements from the website of China’s Ministry of Defense confirmed that ships were even in the area. The last recorded movement was a joint exercise with Russia about 2,000 miles west of the Bering Sea from Aug. 20-28.
The Ministry of Defense has since released a statement, saying that ship movement in the Bering Sea was ” a routine arrangement in the annual plan, it is not aimed at any particular country and target.”
In three weeks, China’s President Xi Jinping will travel to the U.S. for a formal state visit to review bilateral relations, which have recently soured over China’s building of artificial islands in the South China Sea and its suspected cyberattacks on the U.S.
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