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2001-2009 - South China Sea Developments

On March 24, 2001, one week before the EP-3 incident, a Chinese frigate came within 100 meters of the U.S. Navy's unarmed hydrographic survey vessel Bowditch collecting data in the Yellow Sea and forced it to stop operating in China's EEZ and depart. And in May 2001 T-AGS 62 Bowditch, another oceanographic survey vessel, had been at sea between Japan and China in the Yellow Sea and the East China Sea doing oceanographic survey operations. Bowditch was performing hydrographic performance acousticdata tests. Such tests are performed using sonar-like equipment to determine the salinity, temperature, existence of currents and other water characteristics that affect the movementof sound under the surface. The collected data is useful in tracking submarines. The Chinese sent out a long-range maritime patrol plane to have a look. A Chinese surface vessel came out periodically during the course of its underway period to have a look as well. And the master of the Bowditch thought that it was their better course of action to depart the area at that point and he did so.

Again in September 2002, PLAN war ships directed the USNS Bowditch - an unarmed oceanographic research vessel manned by 25 civilians - to exit an area of international waters well outside Chinese territorial waters in the Yellow Sea. China's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman at thetime refused to specify her country's specific basis for requiring Bowditch to depart, andcited only her state's "relevant rights" in the exclusive economic zone as a basis for the PLAN's actions.

In January 2003 China enacted a new decree extending its control over the 200-mile economic zone from its coast. "This is a Chinese domestic law that is inconsistent with international law and the law that we follow," said a defense official. "We have continued to maintain over the years that our military surveys are a high-seas freedom and are not subject to restrictions placed within any" exclusive economic zone."

In May 2003 China sought to intercept the Bowditch and force it away from its shores, claiming that the ship is violating China's "exclusive economic zone." China changed its tactics against the Bowditch, now using fishing boats to deliberately bump into the US vessel as a way of scaring it off. The Bowditch suffered some damage in one such intentional crash.

Upon the invitation of His Excellency Hu Jintao, President of the People's Republic of China, Her Excellency Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, President of the Republic of the Philippines paid a state visit to China from 1 to 3 September 2004. "The two sides reaffirmed their commitment to the peace and stability in the South China Sea and their readiness to continue discussions to study cooperative activities like joint development pending the comprehensive and final settlement of territorial disputes and overlapping maritime claims in the area.

They agreed to promote the peaceful settlement of disputes in accordance with universally-recognized principles of international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. They agreed that the early and vigorous implementation of the 2002 ASEAN-China Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea will pave the way for the transformation of the South China Sea into an area of cooperation."

China and Malaysia have disputes over the ownership of some shoals of the Nangsha Islands. Both sides have shown many times that they would work together to "reach the solution of this dispute in accordance with universally acknowledged principle of international laws including the UN convention of maritime law signed in 1982 through friendly consultations and talks between both sides so as to safeguard peace and stability in South China Sea."

On 08 March 2009 five Chinese vessels harassed an unarmed US Navy ship in the South China Sea. The American ship was conducting routine operations 75 miles south of Hainan Island. US officials protested to China about the naval incident in which American authorities said the Chinese sailors' conduct was "reckless" and "unprofessional." Chinese vessels maneuvered dangerously close to the USNS Impeccable, waving Chinese flags and ordering it to leave the area. The US ocean surveillance ship was unarmed and staffed by civilians conducting routine operations at the time. Some accounts said the Impeccable was towing sonar equipment to monitor Chinese submarine traffic. When the Chinese vessels moved dangerously close to the Impeccable, the U.S. military said the Americans sprayed water from the ship's fire hoses at one of the Chinese vessels. Crew members on the deck of the approaching patrol boat stripped to their underwear when they were sprayed with water, but US officials said the Chinese vessel did not change course, stopping only when it was about eight meters from the twin-hulled American vessel.

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