Bill Gertz over at the Washington Free Beacon reports that the Chinese military, in this case the People’s Liberation Army Navy, is getting quite frisky in the international waters of the South China Sea:

The guided missile cruiser USS Cowpens, which recently took part in disaster relief operations in the Philippines, was confronted by Chinese warships in the South China Sea near Beijing’s new aircraft carrier Liaoning, according to officials familiar with the incident.

“On December 5th, while lawfully operating in international waters in the South China Sea, USS Cowpens and a PLA Navy vessel had an encounter that required maneuvering to avoid a collision,” a Navy official said….

The Cowpens was conducting surveillance of the Liaoning at the time. The carrier had recently sailed from the port of Qingdao on the northern Chinese coast into the South China Sea.

According to the officials, the run-in began after a Chinese navy vessel sent a hailing warning and ordered the Cowpens to stop. The cruiser continued on its course and refused the order because it was operating in international waters.

Then a Chinese tank landing ship sailed in front of the Cowpens and stopped, forcing the Cowpens to abruptly change course in what the officials said was a dangerous maneuver.

The South China Sea is much like the East China Sea where the Chinese recently declared an expanded air-defense identification zone covering areas claimed by both Japan and South Korea. Both are potentially quite rich in oil and gas deposits. The Chinese have been trying to declare everything outside 12 miles from neighboring countries’ populated coastlines as their territorial waters, as well as claiming several uninhabited islands also claimed by other countries such as the Philipines and Vietnam.

This is not the first time China has used military force to harrass US forces operating in the region. Back in 2001, the People’s Liberation Army Air Force forced an EP-3 to make an emergency landing on Hainan Island after one of its interceptors collided with the EP-3 in international airspace. At least three times in the last several years, intelligence-gathering ships were harrassed by the PLAN. The harrassment of an armed vessel represents an escalation of actions.