China Recalls Ships From U.S. Waters After Joint Russian Naval Exercise

China has recalled its ships that were spotted in U.S. territorial waters this past week. The five Chinese naval vessels, including three warships, a troop carrier, and a supply ship, came within 12 miles of Alaska’s Aleutian Islands, sparking concerns as the unprecedented event coincided with President Barack Obama’s visit to the state.

Prior to the recall, the Chinese ships had been engaged in a joint exercise with the Russian navy. According to the Wall Street Journal, the joint naval exercise took place in late August.

“China’s Defense Ministry also confirmed for the first time that its navy ships had sailed to the Bering Sea for training after joint exercises with Russia in late August, but said the activity was routine and not aimed at any particular country.”

Of note is the fact that the ships were sighted inside U.S. territorial waters in early September, after the exercise is said to have ended. And while “the activity was routine and not aimed at any particular country” may be a true statement in regard to the military exercise, there aren’t a lot of countries that it could have been aimed at. Russia and the United States are the only countries that border on the Bering Sea.

The Pentagon was quick to downplay the significance of the event, despite President Obama’s presence in Alaska. In a statement issued Wednesday, Pentagon Spokesman Captain Jeff Davis indicated that the U.S. government was aware of the Chinese ships and not concerned.

We respect the freedom of all nations to operate military vessels in international waters in accordance with international law.

President Obama was also unworried, as his visit to Alaska continued uninterrupted, and he neglected to address the presence of the Chinese ships prior to their recall. Instead, he tweeted about his climate change concerns.

China has recently expressed an intent to create a true “blue water” navy, as reported by Reuters, and this could have simply been an instance of the nation showing an intent to protect its interests outside its own territorial waters. As previously reported by Inquisitr, the Chinese and Russian navies have a long history of joint exercises far outside their respective territorial waters.

The presence of the ships within U.S. territorial waters, in and of itself, was not necessarily an act of aggression or violation of international law. An anonymous source told the Washington Post that naval vessels are allowed to cross through the territorial waters of other nations in what is referred to as “innocent passage.”

The same source confirmed to the Washington Post that China recalled the ships. “By all accounts and by all indications, they’re going home.”

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With longstanding tensions between China and the United States in the South China Sea, the Pentagon’s lack of response to this incursion may have been calculated.

Retired Rear Admiral David Titley told the Washington Post that the presence of the Chinese ships was a clear signal of their intent to project power beyond the Bering Sea and into the arctic. Titley also indicated that, perhaps, the Pentagon intends to lead by example.

“This is how mature superpowers operate. You don’t go to general quarters every time there’s a ship operating legally,” Titley told the Washington Post, referencing China’s own vociferous objections to the presence of U.S. naval vessels in the South China Sea.

With the Chinese ships recalled and on the way home, and President Obama safely back in Washington, cooler heads have obviously prevailed. But what could this mean for the future, as China’s newly minted blue water navy begins to project its power around the world?

[Photo via NASA]