China Condemns 'Vile' U.S. Warship for Disrupting Navy Exercise

Beijing has lodged a diplomatic complaint over the conduct of U.S. Navy destroyer USS Mustin, which shadowed a Chinese aircraft carrier group for three weeks as it held exercises in the Western Pacific and South China Sea.

At a press conference on Thursday, China's defense ministry spokesperson Wu Qian accused the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer of "persistent close-range reconnaissance" as the People's Liberation Army task group led by Liaoning conducted exercises this month.

USS Mustin "severely disrupted" China's naval exercises and "threatened ... the safety of vessels and crew," said Wu, who described the conduct as "very vile in nature."

Wu, who claimed PLA Navy warships "warned and expelled" the USS Mustin, said the U.S. should "rein in its front-line forces" and adhere to jointly agreed contact guidelines at sea and in the air in order to avoid "similar dangerous incidents" in future.

Responding to Wu's statement, a U.S. Navy official told Newsweek that its encounters were lawful and did not affect other operations.

"The U.S. Navy maintains a persistent presence in the Indo-Pacific as it has for many years and regularly interacts with foreign vessels/aircraft," the official said. "All interactions with our forces have been in accordance with international law and did not impact any ongoing operations."

Earlier this month, the aircraft carrier Liaoning and its five escorts left the East China Sea and sailed through the Miyako Strait into the Philippine Sea, where it held "actual combat drills" near Taiwan during the week of April 5.

When the carrier group sailed into the South China Sea a few days later, it emerged that USS Mustin had been monitoring the PLA vessels. The U.S. Navy released an image of the warship's commanding and executive officers casually watching Liaoning in the Western Pacific on April 4.

The picture, which Taiwan's defense ministry described as U.S. "cognitive warfare" against the PLA, generated heated discussions across the Taiwan Strait, including in Communist Party newspaper the Global Times.

In mid-April, a video showing Liaoning's operational drills in the South China Sea surfaced briefly on Twitter. Media outlets speculated the footage was shot from a U.S. Navy vessel.

Meanwhile, on Chinese short-video platform Kuaishou, a fisherman also posted clips of Liaoning, which was launching and landing J-15 strike fighters on its deck while operating in the Paracel Islands on April 16.

Watching from a distance, however, was a foreign warship, later identified by maritime experts as an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer. Thursday's statement by the Chinese defense ministry appears to indicate USS Mustin was the American vessel in question.

A satellite image snapped on Monday showed the Liaoning carrier group finally leaving the South China Sea after two weeks. But as the six PLA assets sailed through the Bashi Channel into the Philippine Sea, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer was again seen among them—this time tailing a Chinese frigate within the flotilla's formation.

At his press briefing, Wu said U.S. warship activity "close to Chinese waters" had increased by more than 20 percent versus the same period last year. It coincided with a 40 percent rise in reconnaissance aircraft activity, he added.

The Global Times quoted Beijing military analyst Song Zhongping as saying the American destroyer's operations "could result in misjudgements and accidents."

Referencing the encounter guidelines mentioned by Wu, Song accused the U.S. of violating regulations agreed upon by both countries.

Last month, a report by the South China Sea Strategic Situation Probing Initiative—a Peking University think tank—said the U.S. military had "exerted maximum pressure in the South China Sea" in 2020.

U.S. forces operated in the region at an intensity "rarely seen in recent years," the institute said, "posing unprecedented deterrence against China."

U.S. Navy Ship Operates In Pacific
The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Mustin. Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class David Flewellyn/U.S. Navy