The March 2009 USNS Impeccable (T-AGOS-23) incident, like the 2001 EP-3 event before it, highlighted a flashpoint that exists between the United States and China in the South China Sea. The similarity of Chinese behavior during these two events is remarkable. The Impeccable incident occurred when a collection of Chinese government and fishing vessels maneuvered aggressively and in close quarters around the American ship, interfering with her performance of survey operations in the South China Sea more than 70 miles off China's nearest coastline. The EP-3 incident occurred in approximately the same area when an aggressively maneuvered Chinese intercepting aircraft collided with the American patrol plane as it performed routine reconnaissance operations. The statements of the Chinese government in the aftermath of each of these events, claiming that the U.S. naval operations were illegal and threatening to China, demonstrates the sharp differences of perspective over what traditional military activities constitute legitimate uses of those waters.
Through a Chinese Lens
With Sino-centric visions of international laws and treaties, China has essentially claimed the South China Sea as its own.
By Commander Peter A. Dutton, JAGC, U.S. Navy (Retired)