National Security

Pentagon: Chinese Navy Ships Passed Through U.S. Territorial Waters for First Time

Chinese ships in 2013
Chinese ships in 2013 / AP

The five Chinese Navy ships spotted operating in the Bering Sea off the coast of Alaska steered within 12 nautical miles of the U.S. coast and passed through U.S. territorial waters, the Pentagon said.

The Wall Street Journal reported:

Pentagon officials said for the first time late Thursday that the five Chinese navy ships had passed through U.S. territorial waters as they transited the Aleutian Islands, but said they had complied with international law. Analysts saw the passage as significant as Beijing has long objected to U.S. Navy vessels transiting its territorial waters or operating in international waters just outside.

The Chinese vessels, including three combat ships along with a replenishment vessel and an amphibious ship, were first observed in the area Wednesday after moving toward the Aleutian Islands, which are controlled partially by the United States and Russia.

China’s Defense Ministry explained that the ships had sailed to the Bering Sea for training following joint exercises with Russia called "Joint Sea 2015 (II)" at the end of last month, insisting that the actions were "routine."

"This is a routine arrangement in the annual plan, it is not aimed at any particular country and target," the ministry said in a statement.

Pentagon officials said that the vessels passed through the U.S. territorial waters in agreement with international law’s principle of "innocent passage."

The Navy ships "transited expeditiously and continuously through the Aleutian Island chain in a manner consistent with international law," a Pentagon spokesman explained.

The ships were observed off the Alaskan coast just as President Obama concluded his three-day trip there to raise awareness about climate change. The sighting also comes three weeks before Obama welcomes Chinese President Xi Jinping to Washington, D.C., for a White House state dinner.