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A close encounter with a Chinese aircraft carrier has become a source of pride for the crew of a US Navy destroyer, a senior US admiral has said.
In April, the USS Mustin sailed within visual range of the Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning and then let the world know.
The operation was a testament to the “boldness” and skill of American sailors, Vice Admiral Roy Kitchener told the Surface Navy Association National Symposium. And those sailors reveled in the condemnation it drew from China, added Kitchener, who is commander of US Navy surface forces and surface forces in the Pacific.
The Mustin was tasked with “marking” Liaoning as the carrier and its escorts conducted exercises in the South China Sea, Kitchener said, “so they went over there, and they approached the group , and the Chinese “cruiser and destroyer escorts” in the screen came out to meet them.
The crew of the Mustin “realized that at some point all the Chinese escorts had kind of backed off, which told us, ‘OK, there are operating restrictions they had around of the carrier,'” Kitchener added.
“Mustin didn’t have one,” he said. “They went on, found a good station and sat next to it taking pictures and doing other things for quite a while.”
One such photo, showing the commander and executive officer of the Mustin casually observing Liaoning, quickly spread around the world and was widely interpreted as a message to the Chinese Navy.
In the weeks that followed, Chinese officials condemned Mustin, calling his actions “very vile” and to accuse the destroyer from endangering Chinese ships and personnel, which US officials refuse.
“It was a good story in the end. At the time, we had to manage a bit,” Kitchener said Tuesday, adding that the crew of the Mustin commemorated the encounter on a uniform patch.
At the bottom of the crest, next to the Mustin’s initials and hull number, are the words “non grata,” Kitchener said.
“I said, ‘Hey, what does that mean?’ And they say, ‘Well, sir, this is from the demarche that the Chinese sent to our State Department that said, ‘Hey, the USS Mustin is no longer welcome in the South China Sea because ‘they’re so annoying,'” he added.
The incident was illustrative of “what our sailors are trained to do,” Kitchener said, and the response from Mustin’s crew showed they were united around their mission.
Operating close to other forces is not a new experience for the US Navy, but trouble with Russian and chinese forces – whose conduct the United States has sometimes considered “dangerous and unprofessional“- have increased in recent years amid tensions with each of these countries.
Kitchener and other Navy officials said U.S. forces should expect to encounter these forces more often and closer to US shores.
“When we go on operations now, whether it’s on the east coast or the west coast, the Black Sea, the South China Sea, we’re there one-on-one with our adversaries,” Kitchener said. “They’re there. They’re there. And we’re managing the risk, and our sailors are getting really good.”
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