Sovereignty at Sea
Survival: Journal of the International Institute of Strategic Studies, Vol. 51, pp. 13-18, June-July 2009
6 Pages Posted: 4 May 2011
Date Written: July 1, 2009
In March 2009 the Chinese conducted bold and dangerous manoeuvres against the USNS Impeccable, a US Navy military survey vessel operating about 120 kilometres from the island of Hainan in the South China Sea. Five Chinese government vessels, including a Navy intelligence collection ship, a Bureau of Maritime Fisheries patrol vessel, a State Oceanographic Administration patrol vessel, and two small Chinese flagged trawlers, surrounded and blocked the transit of the US vessel in international waters. In an odd turn, a Chinese vessel approached within 8 metres of the American ship in an attempt to cut its towed array; when the Impeccable engaged the Chinese vessel with fire hoses to repel it, the Chinese crew stripped to their underwear. The event marks the first test of the Obama administration regarding China’s efforts to reshape the legal regime that applies to the littoral zone1 under the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention. Beijing provoked a similar crisis early in 2001 at the start of President George W. Bush’s first term, when a Chinese interception of an American EP-3 surveillance aircraft flying in international airspace over the East China Sea caused a mid-air collision and the loss of the Chinese fighter jet and pilot, and required an emergency landing of the US aircraft on Hainan.
Keywords: China, Naval Power, seapower, sea power, Southeast Asia, South China Sea, SCS, carrier, Navy
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