WASHINGTON - China acted in an "irresponsible" way in a stand-off with a US naval ship this month in the South China Sea, American Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel said on Thursday.
US officials have said that the USS Cowpens, a guided missile cruiser, had to take evasive action to avoid a collision with a Chinese vessel that was dangerously close in the December 5 incident.
"That action by the Chinese, cutting in front ...100 yards out in front of the Cowpens, was not a responsible action," Hagel told a news conference.
"It was unhelpful, it was irresponsible," he said.
Hagel said the maritime confrontation, the first reported for several years, pointed to the need for clear protocols between the two militaries to avoid a potential clash in the Pacific.
"That's the kind of thing that's very incendiary, that could be a trigger or a spark that could set off some eventual miscalculation," he said.
The two sides needed to work "to have a mechanism to be able to defuse some of these issues as they occur."
General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the same press conference that American and Chinese military officers have been meeting to draft rules for when the two militaries encounter each other.
He said "those working groups have actually been meeting and making some progress."
China has played down the incident and said the US ship posed a "threat."