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BEIJING — Military relations with the United States face a rosy outlook, China’s Defense Ministry said Wednesday, in an apparent attempt to limit damage from a recent confrontation between the countries’ navies in the South China Sea.
A ministry statement said the sides discussed issues relating to the Dec. 5 incident through normal channels and “carried out effective communication.”
“Relations between the Chinese and U.S. militaries enjoy excellent prospects for development and both sides are willing to boost communication, coordinate closely, and work to maintain regional peace and stability,” the statement said.
In its first official comment on the incident, the ministry offered few details other than to say the Chinese amphibious ship involved had been on regular patrol and “appropriately handled the matter in strict accordance with operational procedures.”
The U.S. Pacific Fleet has said the cruiser USS Cowpens maneuvered to avoid a collision while operating in international waters. It said both vessels eventually “maneuvered to ensure safe passage” after discussions between officers onboard.
However, a newspaper published by the ruling Communist Party on Monday accused the U.S. ship of crowding Chinese ships accompanying the country’s first aircraft carrier on sea trials.
The Global Times said the Cowpens came within 45 kilometers (30 miles) of the Chinese squadron, inside what it called its “inner defense layer.”
The incident came amid heightened tensions over China’s expanding navy and growing assertiveness in the region, where it claims vast areas of heavily trafficked waters and numerous island groups.
Beijing recently declared a new air defense zone over parts of the East China Sea encompassing Japanese-controlled islands claimed by China, prompting heavy criticism and defiance from Washington, Tokyo and others.
During visits this week, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Washington would provide more than $70 million in security assistance to Vietnam and the Philippines — countries locked in competing claims with China over territory in the South China Sea.
The Dec. 5 confrontation was the most serious incident between the two navies since 2009, when Chinese ships and planes repeatedly harassed the U.S. ocean surveillance vessel USNS Impeccable in the South China Sea.
Partly to avoid such confrontations, the U.S. has been pushing for increased exchanges and limited joint exercises with the Chinese military. Next year, China’s navy is set to take part for the first time in a major international maritime exercise known as Rim of the Pacific.
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