China sends destroyer to within 40 metres of U.S. naval ship in South China Sea

A Chinese destroyer came aggressively close to a U.S. navy ship in the South China Sea, forcing it to manoeuvre to prevent a collision, the U.S. Pacific Fleet said Tuesday, describing an encounter that could worsen tensions between the countries.

Incident occurred in South China Sea, where China has flexed muscles over international objections

In this Oct. 13, 2016, photo provided by the U.S. navy, guided-missile destroyer USS Decatur (DDG 73) operates in the South China Sea. A Chinese destroyer came close to a U.S. navy ship there on Sunday, an incident confirmed by Beijing. (Petty Officer 2nd Class Diana Quinlan/U.S. Navy via AP)

A Chinese destroyer came aggressively close to a U.S. navy ship in the South China Sea, forcing it to manoeuvre to prevent a collision, the U.S. Pacific Fleet said Tuesday, describing an encounter that could worsen tensions between the countries.

The Chinese warship approached the USS Decatur in an "unsafe and unprofessional manoeuvre" on Sunday near Gaven Reefs in the South China Sea, said Lt.-Cmdr. Tim Gorman, spokesperson for U.S. Pacific Fleet.

The Chinese destroyer "conducted a series of increasingly aggressive manoeuvres accompanied by warnings for Decatur to depart the area," Gorman said in an emailed statement.

It approached within 41 metres of the Decatur's bow, forcing it to manoeuvre, Gorman said.

China claims most of the strategic waterway and has built islands on reefs and equipped them with military facilities such as airstrips, radar domes and missile systems.

Mattis talks

The Chinese Defence ministry said Tuesday it opposes the U.S. warship's entry into the waters "around China's islands and reefs." It confirmed that the Luoyang, a Chinese missile destroyer, was immediately deployed to identify the U.S. warship and drive it away.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry said it strongly urged the U.S. to stop its "provocative" actions.

Relations between the U.S. and China have deteriorated over an escalating trade dispute. But ties have worsened in recent weeks with a U.S. decision to issue economic sanctions over the purchase of Russian fighter jets and surface-to-air missile equipment.

Beijing said the U.S. had no right to interfere in Chinese military co-operation with Russia. In response to the sanctions, China summoned the American ambassador and defence attache to deliver a protest, and recalled its navy commander from a U.S. trip.

Plans for U.S. Defence Secretary Jim Mattis to visit China in October for talks were scrapped in recent days, with conflicting reports as to who cancelled them.

With files from CBC News