Video has emerged showing just how close a U.S. warship got to its Chinese counterpart in the contested waters of the South China Sea in late September.
The footage — obtained by the South China Morning Post newspaper purportedly from the British Ministry of Defence ― shows a Chinese Luyang-class destroyer nearing the port side of the American guided-missile destroyer Decatur.
“They were positioning in to close on our port side, were trying to push us out of the way” an American sailor — believed to be on the ship’s bridge — says in the video.
A couple of the Decatur’s sailors appear to stand near the bow of the ship in the roughly minute-long video.
While the Pentagon has declined to share the footage with the public, U.S. Navy officials on Monday confirmed the authenticity of the Morning Post’s video.
The incident occurred about 8:30 a.m. local time on Sept. 30 near contested reefs that are occupied by Chinese troops but also claimed by Vietnam, Taiwan and the Philippines.
In the video obtained by the Morning Post, personnel on the Decatur’s bridge can be heard transmitting coordinates and circumstances as the Chinese ship moves just forward and to the left of the American warship.
“You are on (sic) dangerous course. If you don’t change course your (sic) will suffer consequences," a crew member of the Chinese warship appeared to say, according to the Morning Post, which cited a transcript it obtained.
The newspaper reported that a crew member aboard the Decatur responded, “We are conducting innocent passage."
The Decatur had been conducting a freedom of navigation operation, or “FONOP,” near the reefs shortly before the Chinese warship intercepted it.
“U.S. Navy ships and aircraft operate throughout the Indo-Pacific routinely, including in the South China Sea,” U.S. Pacific Fleet spokesman Cmdr. Nate Christensen said after the incident. “As we have for decades, our forces will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows.”
China’s military has increasingly decried what it claims are incursions into its territorial waters.
Beijing has steadily fortified seven islands or reefs, loading them with military bases, air fields and weapons systems, while several neighboring governments have persisted with their territorial claims.
Rich in fish, oil and natural gas, the South China Sea also is bisected by commercial shipping routes that carry trillions of dollars in cargo annually.