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Rising navy, assertiveness behind US-China flap
By CHRISTOPHER BODEEN – 7 hours ago
BEIJING (AP) — The Chinese Defense Ministry has demanded that the U.S. Navy end surveillance missions off China's southern coast following a weekend confrontation between an American vessel and Chinese ships.
In its first public comment on the Sunday episode, the ministry repeated earlier statements from the Foreign Ministry that the unarmed U.S. ship was operating illegally inside China's exclusive economic zone when it was challenged by three Chinese government ships and two Chinese-flagged trawlers.
"The Chinese side's carrying out of routine enforcement and safeguarding measures within its exclusive economic zone was entirely appropriate and legal," ministry spokesman Huang Xueping said in a statement faxed overnight to reporters.
"We demand the United States respect our legal interests and security concerns, and take effective measures to prevent a recurrence of such incidents," Huang said.
Despite the sharp remarks, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton met in a private meeting Wednesday in Washington D.C. to say the countries agreed on the need to reduce tensions and avoid a repeat of the confrontation.
But neither side yielded in their conflicting versions of events, even as they prepare for a much-anticipated first meeting between Hu and President Barack Obama at next month's G20 summit in London.
The U.S. says that Navy mapping ship USNS Impeccable was operating legally when it was harassed by Chinese boats in international waters about 75 miles (120 kilometers) off China's southern island province of Hainan.
Defense Department officials say the Impeccable was on a mission to seek out threats such as submarines and was towing a sonar apparatus that scans and listens for subs, mines and torpedoes. With its numerous Chinese military installations, Hainan offers rich hunting for such surveillance.
Of particular interest is the new submarine base near the resort city of Sanya that is home to the Chinese navy's most sophisticated craft.
Satellite photographs of the base taken last year and posted on the Internet by the Federation of American Scientists show a submarine cave entrance and a pier, with a Chinese nuclear-powered Jin class sub docked there.