By Jon Harper
Copyright 2014 Stars and Stripes
WASHINGTON — The commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific said Thursday he was concerned about unprofessional and overly aggressive Chinese naval officers in the wake of the recent Cowpens incident.
The incident occurred Dec. 5 in the South China Sea when a Chinese vessel forced the USS Cowpens guided missile cruiser, which was operating in international waters, to maneuver in order to avoid hitting the Chinese ship, according to U.S. Pacific Fleet.
“I would probably characterize [the Chinese actions] as more as unnecessary and probably more unprofessional,” Adm. Samuel Locklear, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, told reporters during a press conference at the Pentagon. “I don’t know … whether it was [due to a] lack of experience.”
When the near miss occurred, the Cowpens was sailing in an area where the Chinese navy was exercising its new aircraft carrier when another Chinese vessel aggressively approached the Cowpens. Locklear said that U.S. forces in the region were not properly notified that the exercise was taking place.
“The Chinese were conducting what they claimed to be carrier operations that they believe had been properly notified. Those notification procedures were in question. And … the people [who] were on Cowpens, in fact, I’m sure were not aware of any notification of that,” Locklear said.
Locklear hopes that the Chinese navy will become more professional over time.
“We will interact with each other more in the future. My hope is that we will learn to interact — continue to learn, and to progress in the professionalism that we exhibit towards each other. This is the best way forward,” he said.
Locklear is worried that similar Chinese behavior in the East China Sea, where tensions are running high, could ignite a conflict between China and Japan.
“I am concerned … In this case, you just have primarily maritime security forces that are in and around those contested islands. But those are, you know, in many cases, those are young, you know, young [Chinese] naval officers or young civilian mariners who are out there … making those decisions. So we have to continue to encourage restraint. We have to continue to encourage professionalism,” Locklear said.