Five Chinese Navy ships were observed operating in the Bering Sea off the Alaskan coast, according to Pentagon officials.
The Wall Street Journal reported that the sight of the ships, including three Chinese combat ships along with a replenishment vessel and an amphibious ship, marked the first time the U.S. military had spotted Chinese vessels in the area.
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While officials declined to detail when the ships were first spotted or their distance from the coast of Alaska, they explained that the vessels entered the area after moving toward the Aleutian Islands, which are controlled partially by the U.S. and Russia.
"This would be a first in the vicinity of the Aleutian Islands. I don’t think we’d characterize anything they’re doing as threatening," an unnamed defense official said.
The sight of the ships comes just as President Obama ends his three-day visit to Alaska to raise awareness about climate change. Later this month, the president will invite Chinese President Xi Jinping to the White House for a state dinner, despite calls for him to cancel the meeting.
An anonymous Pentagon official said the presence of the vessels could be viewed as indicating Chinese "interest" in the region of the Arctic.
"It’s difficult to tell exactly, but it indicates some interest in the Arctic region," the official said. "It’s different."