Australia is warning Beijing not to use “intimidation or aggressive tactics” after a Chinese destroyer challenged a US Navy warship during a tense standoff in the South China Sea.
The Chinese ship faced off with the US Navy’s Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Decatur on Sunday during a close encounter near Gaven Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands. US officials described the showdown as “unsafe,” claiming that the Chinese ship sailed within 45 yards of the US naval vessel.
“We would view any use of intimidation or aggressive tactics as destabilizing and potentially dangerous, Australian Defense Minister Christopher Pyne said, according to the Australian.
“Australia has consistently expressed concern over ongoing militarization of the South China Sea and we continue to urge all claimants to refrain from unilateral actions that would increase tension in the region,” he added.
Australia’s military began a two-week multilateral security exercise in the South China Sea on Tuesday along with military forces from Singapore, Malaysia, New Zealand and the UK.
The move follows a further deterioration of relations between the US and China.
The US and China have clashed over a wide range of issues, including trade, Taiwan, sanctions, and increased American military activity in the disputed South China Sea, which China and other Asian nations hold certain claims to.
Last week, Beijing canceled two high-level security meetings with US defense officials, and warned of “consequences” towards the US due to sanctions over Russian military equipment. Beijing also denied a request for a US Navy ship to make a port call at Hong Kong.
US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis canceled his planned visit to Beijing this month, but on Monday, he said he that, despite setback, he doesn’t see the US-China relationship “getting worse.”
“There’s tension points in the relationship, but based on discussions coming out of New York last week and other things that we have coming up, we do not see it getting worse,” Mattis told reporters en route to Paris.
“We’ll sort this out.”
China’s foreign ministry responded Tuesday, and accusing the US of threatening its “sovereignty and security” by sending the warship into the disputed waters without permission. It added that the US was “taking one provocative operation after another … under the pretext of ‘navigation and overflight freedom.'”