Wednesday, May 6, 2009; 8:00 AM
BEIJING -- China blamed the United States on Wednesday for the latest naval confrontation between the countries, after rejecting criticism by Washington that Beijing's rising military strength is focused on countering U.S power.
A U.S. Navy ship "violated" international and Chinese laws by entering what China considers its "exclusive economic zone" without authorization, Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said.
"It entered China's Exclusive Economic Zone in the Yellow Sea without permission from the Chinese side. China is concerned about it, and asked U.S to take effective measures to prevent a similar case from happening again," he said in a statement.
The Pentagon said the latest encounter occurred Friday in international waters when two Chinese fishing vessels came dangerously close _ to within 30 yards (27 meters) _ of the USNS Victorious as it was operating in the Yellow Sea.
The Victorious crew sounded its alarm and shot water from its fire hoses to try to deter the vessels in an hour-long incident, one official said. The vessels didn't leave until the Victorious radioed a nearby Chinese military vessel for help, said Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman.
The past month has seen a number of confrontations between Chinese vessels and U.S. Navy surveillance ships in the Pacific that have become almost a routine cat-and-mouse game on the seas.
There have been four incidents _ including last Friday's _ where Chinese-flagged fishing vessels maneuvered close to unarmed U.S. ships crewed by civilians and used by the Pentagon to do underwater surveillance and submarine hunting missions, two Pentagon officials said.
U.S. Defense officials have called the Chinese maneuvers dangerous and say they could lead to escalating problems.
Military tensions have increased as U.S. officials have increasingly spoken out about China's military spending and the country's lack of transparency.
Earlier this week, Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said China's increasing military strength seemed to be focused on counterbalancing America's presence in Asia.
"They are developing capabilities that are very maritime focused, maritime and air focused, and in many ways, very much focused on us," Mullen said in Washington. "They seem very focused on the United States Navy and our bases that are in that part of the world."
An unidentified Chinese Defense Ministry official was quoted in Wednesday's Global Times newspaper saying that Mullen's remarks were "irresponsible and worked to the disadvantage of the development of Sino-US military relations."
Mullen acknowledged that "every country in the world has got a right to develop their military as they see fit to provide for their own security" but suggested the U.S. and its allies needed to cooperate to figure out a way to work with China to avoid miscalculations.
Beijing has bristled at the criticism, saying its military spending was on par with its economic growth and defense needs, and its budget remains only a fraction of the Pentagon's.
"The U.S. has to create an imaginary enemy to find excuses to develop its military might," Li Jie, a military expert on the Navy, was quoted as saying in the Global Times, which is connected to the Communist Party's People's Daily. "How on Earth can China threaten the U.S.?"
Last year, China announced a military budget of $61 billion, up nearly 18 percent over the previous year. It was the 18th year of double-digit growth of military spending in the past 19 years. China's spending, which puts it on par with Japan, Russia and Britain, is still dwarfed by U.S. military expenditures, which are nearly 10 times as large.
Chinese military officials have accused the U.S. of encouraging allies such as Australia to beef up their militaries to help contain China.
Canberra announced last Saturday it would buy 100 state-of-the-art U.S. jet fighters and double the size of its modest submarine fleet to keep pace with military spending in Asia.
"The U.S. has successfully coaxed Australia into approving a military budget of $70 billion to boost its defenses over the next 20 years," the Global Times quoted Zhang Zhaozhong, a rear admiral in the People's Liberation Army Navy, as saying Wednesday.