Chinese naval generals yesterday said the USNS Impeccable had acted "like a spy", and defended the navy's interception as "totally within our rights".
Vice-Admiral Jin Mao, former vice-commander of the People's Liberation Army's (PLA) navy, said that the American vessel is not just a surveillance ship, but a spy ship.
March 9, 2009: The Pentagon says five Chinese ships, including a naval vessel, harassed USNS Impeccable in international waters off Hainan. China says the US ship was carrying out an illegal survey. [China Daily]
"What was the ship doing? Anyone with eyes can see, and our navy can see even more clearly," Jin told China Daily yesterday on the sidelines of the ongoing session of the National People's Congress.
"Go and ask the Americans, ask their embassy. Ask their officials what their ship was doing in Chinese waters," he said when asked by the foreign media to comment on the incident.
Rear-Admiral Zhang Deshun, deputy chief-of-staff of the PLA's navy, also said the US vessel is a spy ship.
The Impeccable carried a 2-km-long detection cable and its sheer presence threatened Chinese vessels in the country's maritime territory, he said, adding that the US navy's surveillance near Chinese maritime territory has been consistent, but this time "it is too close".
"It's like a man with a criminal record wandering just outside the gate of a family home. When the host comes out to find out what he is doing there, the man complains that the host had violated his rights," Jin said.
Rear-Admiral Lin Yongqing, former deputy chief-of-staff of the PLA's South China Sea Fleet, said the response of Chinese ships was "nothing wrong".
"It's easy to tell (who's right and who's wrong). The Chinese ships were exercising their legal rights," Lin said.
Rear-Admiral Zhang Huachen, from the East China Sea Fleet, said Beijing is "strongly against" Washington's military moves in China's exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea and defended Chinese ships' activities there.
China always shows tolerance, but that does not mean the country is weak, said Major-General Luo Yuan, a military researcher and top political advisor.
In April 2001, a US spy plane collided mid-air with a Chinese fighter jet off Hainan, killing one Chinese pilot and forcing the American plane to make an emergency landing at a Hainan air base. China released the 24 crew after the US expressed regret.
(China Daily March 11, 2009)